A sweet-natured coming-of-age/raising-of-consciousness drama, based on the semi-autobiographical play by Josefina Lopez and driven by two powerhouse performances. As old-fashioned Dona Carmen, matriarch of a traditional Mexican-American family, and her rebellious daughter, Ana, veteran actress Lupe Ontiveros (for whom the stage role was written) and newcomer America Ferrera are perfectly matched and equally iron willed. Determined, resourceful, 18-year-old Ana is building herself a road out of the barrio, brick by brick. She earned high grades in grammar school and was accepted at prestigious Beverly Hills high school, two buses away from her neighborhood; she got a tuition scholarship and a job to pay for expenses and, encouraged by her English teacher, Mr. Guzman (George Lopez), now hopes to go to college. But Ana's mother has other ideas. Now that Ana has graduated, she wants her to work at her sister Estela's (Ingrid Oliu) dress factory, and live at home until she marries a suitable boy (carefully guarding her virginity in the meantime) and settle into life as a proper Latina wife and mother. Though Carmen couches her plans in terms of the purest love and wisdom ("a mother knows what's best for her daughter"), her resolve is shot through with envy, resentment and self-hatred. Carmen started work when she was 13 — what makes Ana so special that she should spend another four years in school? And why should the plump Carmen tiptoe around her daughter's generous proportions — if a mother can't tell her "little butterball" she's fat, who can? And so Ana goes to work at the sweatshop, but secretly fills out an application to attend Columbia University and begins dating Anglo classmate Jimmy (Brian Sites), who thinks Ana looks fine. (His spontaneous admiration of her "really beautiful face" produces a response — "Just my face?" — that's poignant without being maudlin.) Ana's struggles are dramatized and resolved in true "Afterschool Special" fashion, but the film is rescued from banality by its uniformly appealing performances. Oliu in particular transforms the ambitious but self-defeating Estela from a by-the-numbers counterpoint to Ana's boldness into a genuine character. Without the presence of such robustly ingratiating performers, the scene in which the seamstresses strip to their underwear in the sweltering factory and defiantly compare cellulite and stretch marks would be a painful cliche; with it, a goofy sense of personal empowerment prevails.
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 2002
- Rating: NR
- Review: A sweet-natured coming-of-age/raising-of-consciousness drama, based on the semi-autobiographical play by Josefina Lopez and driven by two powerhouse performances. As old-fashioned Dona Carmen, matriarch of a traditional Mexican-American family, and her reb… (more)