HELP US KEEP REPORTING. DONATE TO ORLANDO WEEKLY PRESS CLUB.

Friday, September 22, 2000

Spicy dish still tastes like leftovers

Movie: Woman on Top

Posted on Fri, Sep 22, 2000 at 4:00 AM

***
Woman on Top
Length: 1 hour, 25 minutes
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Website: http://www.womanontopmovie.com
Release Date: 2000-09-22
Cast: Penelope Cruz, Mark Feuerstein, Murilo Benicio, Harold Perrineau Jr.
Director: Fina Torres, Thierry Arbogast
Screenwriter: Vera Blasi
Music Score: Luis Bacalov
WorkNameSort: Woman on Top
Our Rating: 3.00

Take a widely appreciated food fetish, add healthy portions of romance, sprinkle in liberal amounts of meal-preparation scenes and season with quirky characters. That venerable recipe for an art-house hit is followed by Venezuelan filmmaker Fina Torres in "Woman on Top," a romantic comedy about life, love and the sensual glory of Brazilian cuisine.

Torres ("Orianna," "Celestial Clockwork") cooks up some impressive results, including the leading-lady emergence of Penelope Cruz, a wide-eyed Spanish beauty who shined in Pedro Almodóvar's All About My Mother and "Live Flesh." As Isabella -- a talented chef who leaves her cheating husband Toninho (Brazilian TV regular Murilo Benício), his popular seaside restaurant and their native Bahia for a new life in San Francisco -- Cruz is sexy, funny, knowing and engagingly vulnerable.

But Torres often strains to match the kookiness and kink that come so naturally to Almodóvar and his ilk. This calculated strategy is transparent in a flashback that sees Isabella and Toninho using an aromatic chili pepper as an instrument of foreplay. Later, she's followed through the streets of San Francisco by men who are hypnotized by her exotic appeal. It's supposed to be a funny, charming sequence, but the growing mob instead appears vaguely menacing.

Then there's the inevitable education of an uptight WASP by an earthy foreigner. Isabella's transvestite friend Monica (Harold Perrineau Jr.) teaches the art of loosening up to Cliff (Mark Feuerstein), an ambitious TV producer whose nerves turn to jelly when he pursues the object of his affections.

The film's dialogue (by newcomer Vera Blasi) seems lifted from previous food-and-sex movies like Alfonso Arau's "Like Water for Chocolate." "You must bring all your feelings and experiences to the act of creation," Isabella tells eager students at the San Francisco Culinary Institute.

At least Torres knows what to do with actors; the smoldering Benício shows effective chemistry with Cruz. In an inspired touch, a retinue of guitar-strumming, percussion-playing hometown pals follow Toninho through his moments of sad meditation and romantic pleading.

The rhythmic pacing of "Woman on Top" is bolstered by a lilting, bossa-nova soundtrack of new tunes by Brazilian singer-guitarist Paulinho Moska (Toninho's singing voice) and classics by Xavier Cugat, Baden Powell and Luiz Bonfa. The film moves at a pleasant meter, with musical sequences and special-effects magic occasionally diverting our attention from the overall lack of originality. Those distractions make Torres' familiar song an easier listen.

Tags:

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Orlando Weekly. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Orlando Weekly, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at feedback@orlandoweekly.com.

Orlando Weekly works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Central Florida.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Orlando’s true free press free.

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Read the Digital Print Issue

December 2, 2020

View more issues

Calendar

© 2020 Orlando Weekly

Website powered by Foundation