It's a real shame that the same audience that embraced "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" probably won't get the chance to do the same for "Real Women Have Curves."

After all, the two films have a lot in common — both are "feel-good" movies, and both deal with issues of self-esteem and ethnic differences.

Of the two, "Real Women" is by far the better film. Which is not meant to knock "Greek Wedding" and its pleasant, sitcomlike flavor. But "Real Women," an independent comedy-drama has more genuine depth and warmth.

To say the film's message about women accepting themselves is needed is the understatement of the year, especially in light of all the current unsavory advertising and marketing that touts an unhealthy obsession with being thin.

"Real Women Have Curves" also features several splendid performances, most notably from newcomer America Ferrara, who stars as Ana Garcia, a Mexican-American teenager getting ready to graduate from high school. Ana has a lot of options before her.

Ana's teacher and mentor (George Lopez) is pushing her to apply for college scholarships, which conflicts with the plans of her tradition-minded mother, Carmen (the always solid Lupe Ontiveros). Carmen believes the teen should join her in the work force, sewing for Ana's older sister Estela (Ingrid Oliu). She would also like to see Ana get married and start her own family.

The material here is expressed with a real sweetness and tenderness, and considering how heavy some of the themes are, the film is quite subtle. Some of that can be attributed to Patricia Cardoso's direction; he makes sure the tone never becomes too strident or oppressive.

But a major factor in the

film's success is its cast. Newcomer Ferrara is a real find, a natural actress who looks comfortable and assured on the screen. It's easy to love her as Ana, who is one of the most endearing screen characters in years. And Ontiveros manages to make Carmen quite likable, despite her antiquated ideas.

"Real Women Have Curves" is rated PG-13 for some vulgar talk (sexual and relating to bodily functions), scattered use of strong profanity (including one usage of the so-called "R-rated" curse word) and a brief, fairly discreet sex scene. Running time: 85 minutes.