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Woman On Top

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Woman On Top

Starring: Penelope Cruz, Murilo Benicio
Director: Fina Torres
Rated: R
RunTime: 91 Minutes
Release Date: September 2000
Genres: Comedy, Romance

*Also starring: Jonas Bloch, Mark Feuerstein, Harold Perrineau Jr.

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

The Age of Miracles is not over. Maybe in the corporate- driven U.S. and highly industrialized areas of the world the closest thing to a miracle is a cell phone or a hand-held computer, but in the magical, mystical town of Bahia, the colonial capital of Brazil, marvels still happen. A single such wonder occurs when an incredibly beautiful woman reverses the usual fairy-tale cliche by wishing AWAY her love, petitioning the goddess of the sea to delete the intensely romantic feeling she had held for what could only be called the human equivalent of a male god in the guise of a man who sings like the angels.

Since "Woman on Top" is a fairy tale, Venezuelan-born director Fina Torres evokes the proper magic from Vera Blasi's frothy script to put across a film that can scarcely help enchanting the crowds who come to see it. The story opens in Bahia, Brazil, as the eponymous woman, Isabella Oliveira (the Madrid-born Penelope Cruz) is almost literally walking on air, now married to her partner in the restaurant business, Toninho Oliveira (Murilo Benicio). As in all legends, Isabella has a flaw: she has motion sickness. She cannot hold down her lunch in the back seat of a car: she must be the driver. Nor can she tolerate even the movement of a trolley car, and, most detrimental of all, she becomes ill while engaging in sex unless she can be in the driver's seat, that is, the woman on top. Her macho husband is tired of being--as he put it--flat on his back for years, and when caught in flagrante with a neighbor, Isabella bolts for San Francisco where she hooks up with her child friend, transsexual Monica Jones (Harold Perrineau Jr.). She lucks out with a job teaching a cooking course which leads her to take a role with Monica on a local TV program--eventually to go national. Meanwhile back in Bahia, the miserable Toninho curses the sea goddess, Yemanja--the very same deity invoked by his wife--leading to a dearth of catches for the local fishermen. As Toninho flies to San Francisco to reactive Isabella's lost love, even sneaking into the TV station with a crew of troubadours to romance her while she is carried live before the cameras, Isabella develops a relationship with her producer, Cliff Lloyd (Mark Feuerstein), who is eventually to forsake his uptight American ways for the unleashed live-for-life culture of Brazil.

If this movie does not get you to call Varig or American Airlines to book the next flight to the world's coffee capital, perhaps nothing will. "Woman on Top" is as flamboyantly romantic as it is bubbly, helped enormously by the staggering good looks of its two principals. Director Torres must have had as much fun as the cast, watching flowers spring to life at the drop of Isabella's tears or wilted blossoms priapically coming erect as she walks past on the hilly streets of San Francisco. One riotous scene will remind movie fans of a similar one in Gary Sinyor's "The Bachelor," as Chris O'Donnell in the role of a 30-year-old man with a $100 million inheritance is followed by a veritable army of women in bridal gowns, all seeking his hand in marriage. In "Woman on Top," virtually the entire male neighborhood falls into lock step behind the stunning Isabella as she saunters down the street with a knowing grin on her face, a radiant flower of Brazil. Torres knows how to stage a food fight as well, as colorful fruits and vegetables are hurled during an outdoor TV filming of a cooking lesson as though the contenders were mano a mano in the bar of a tough San Francisco neighborhood.

Elisabeth Tavernier's costumes do much to show off Ms. Cruz's drop-dead figure while the CD of the music, featuring ballads like "Cinzas," "Nos Bracos d'Isabelle," and "A Flor E O Epinho" should do a brisk business at the Virgin Megastore. The production notes indicate that "Falsa Bahiana" is about a woman trying to pass as Bahian and lacking the sex appeal to pull it off. A magical town indeed. An enchanting movie!

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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