Woman On Top

2000, Movie, R, 93 mins

Review

WOMAN ON TOP
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Bright, bubbly and thoroughly inconsequential, this formulaic romantic comedy rests firmly on the slender shoulders of Spanish actress Penelope Cruz, in her first English-language starring role. Cursed by motion sickness, Brazilian beauty Isabella Oliviera (Cruz) must always be in control: in the car, on the dance floor, in bed...everywhere. Her macho husband Toninho (Murilo Benicio) puts up with Isabella's headstrong ways for three years — after all, it's her inspired cooking that makes his restaurant an instant hit — but eventually rebels and cheats on her with a more compliant cutie. The devastated Isabella decamps for San Francisco, where her old friend Monica (Harold Perrineau Jr.), a flamboyant transsexual, now lives, and asks a conjure woman to cast a spell that will make her forget Toninho. Free of romantic regrets, Isabella blossoms and soon has her own Brazilian cooking show on a local station; every recipe ends with the enticing advice to share it with someone you love. Then the remorseful Toninho arrives with reconciliation on his mind and everything goes haywire; it takes spells, some steamy cooking and the intercession of Isabella's beloved sea goddess Yemanje to put everything right. Whimsy is an infinitely delicate thing, and director Fina Torres has a touch of lead, as her dreary CELESTIAL CLOCKWORK more than proved. Conceived in the tradition of surprise smash LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE, this frothy mix of magic realism and old movie cliches would be as unpalatable as SIMPLY IRRISISTIBLE if not for Cruz's incandescent charisma. Is there another actress alive who could pull off the scene in which Isabella walks merrily down the street, blithely unaware that droopy tulips straighten up as she passes and a growing mob of starry-eyed men is trailing after her, let alone make it charming? leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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