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“This is my daughter Ana, the one I always complain about.” That’s how Carmen Garcia introduces 18-year-old Ana to her co-workers at the downtown Los Angeles sweatshop where she and other middle-aged Latinas labor to make satin prom dresses for faceless white girls. It isn’t all you need to know about the relationship between Carmen (Lupe Ontiveros) and Ana (America Ferrera), but it’s a good start. Carmen has given up on dreams for older daughter Estela (Estela Oliu), who owns the cash-strapped little factory, so she focuses her ambition and disappointment on the cool, self-possessed high-school senior, who knows she’s zaftig but can’t quite understand why she kinda likes it. Real Women Have Curves, adapted from Josefina Lopez’s play, follows the well-trodden path of “ethnic” coming-of-age stories: Ana tries to figure out whether her fate holds a college education or a lifetime of sewing cramps while a fascinated, college-bound boyfriend (Brian Sites) and her overbearing mother play tug of war over her future. The script stands up for all kinds of good things—hot chubby chicks, the familial bosom, and seizing the opportunities of El Norte—so there’s no doubt that Ana will decide her own future while rocking her size-16 glory. But for all its familiarity, the story is fetchingly told, giving ample play to the relaxed, feminine rhythms of the sweatshop and granting a felicitous complexity to the character of Carmen, who sideswipes her family’s attempts to duck her domination with a combination of verbal bullying, self-pitying angst, and obscure medical crises. Sure, Ferrera is gorgeous and riveting in the central role. But Ontiveros has been a wonder in scads of smart films; it’s high time the woman gets the juicy lead she has so long deserved. —Arion Berger