Will we ever tire of Cinderella stories? In America, these have a special resonance, since every immigrant who comes here and makes good is a kind of Cinderella. But princes are in short supply these days and besides women have been told not to count on them. So though the Cinderella in this story - a young Latina woman (played by America Ferrera) - is happy enough to find her prince, what she really wants is a good education. And instead of a wicked stepmother, she has to fight the mother she was born to. A mother who expects her to fulfill family obligations - helping out in her sister's factory; getting married - rather than going off to college.
Their battle of wills provides the overt conflict of the film, but in fact it echoes her own ambivalence about leaving her extended Latin family: playful cousins, a doting grandfather, a stolid, supportive father. Even her mother, whom she'd rather not resemble, holds her by love as much as by tyranny. And a crisis at her sister's factory makes the tug of family that much more urgent.
Only the unflagging efforts of her high school teacher (a dead-serious George Lopez) keep her on a road that represents both a brighter future and a painful rupture.
Her well-fed figure is also an issue (at least to her mother), but less than the title might lead you to expect. While it's clear she's hurt by her mother's jibes, it's also clear that she pretty much likes herself as she is, which leads to the film's most exuberant scene. Overall, you never really doubt that this 'chica dificil' (as one song on the soundtrack puts it) will get her way.
She also, at the last possible minute, reconciles with her mother - but in the most unexpected if poetically perfect way.
I was lucky enough to see this with a large, mainly Latin audience. So much of the laughter I heard was the laughter of recognition. And I doubt those there who work with L.A.'s ubiquitous leaf-blowers have seen many film characters who (like the father here) share their work.
America Ferrera and two other cast members spoke after. She's about to start college, but was already every inch the pro, urging the audience to support a film about their culture. And having two older actresses at her side didn't prevent her from taking command.
In a word, she showed herself to be a good deal like her character. With as promising a future.