A star is born

Real Women Have Curves Starring America Ferrera and George Lopez. Directed by Patricia Cardoso. Rated PG-13, El Rey Theatre through Dec. 24.
Rated 3.0
Ana (America Ferrera), a gifted student from East Los Angeles, is a star pupil across town at Beverly Hills High, but she doesn’t plan to go to college. Even when her English teacher (George Lopez) helps her win a full scholarship to Columbia University, her fiercely hard-working and demanding mother (Lupe Ontiveros) insists she come to work at the little dress factory run by her older sister (Ingrid Oliu).

Based on a play by Josefina Lopez, this gritty little picture dramatizes the travails of Mexican-American working women struggling to keep their pride alive in sweatshop conditions. Ana is inclined to rebel, and her teacher’s encouragement and the romantic attentions of an Anglo classmate (Brian Sites) make her post-diploma rite-of-passage all the more tumultuous.

Lopez’s script is a little too pat in its feisty brand of feminism, but Ontiveros is doggedly and resentfully intent on keeping Ana in the same marginal existence that has marked the greater part of her life, from age 13 on. Ferrera, an 18-year-old dynamo, stumbles with the childish aspects of her character and is confoundedly self-assured in other parts of the story. But she is a glowing presence here, a star in the rough, and her hefty vitality sails right past the script’s penchant for role-model moments of self-discovery and self-esteem.