Woman on Top (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner25/01/2001

2 out of 5 stars
Running time: 91 mins

Colourful but uninvolving ‘magical’ romance, rendered watchable purely due to Penelope Cruz’s star-making performance and some nice support from Harrold Perrineau Jr (from Romeo and Juliet).

2001 looks set to be Penelope Cruz’s year – as well as starring in Woman on Top, she’s also the female lead in two of the biggest upcoming movies of the year: the long-awaited Captain Correlli’s Mandolin (co-starring with Nicolas Cage) and Billy Bob Thornton’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel All The Pretty Horses (co-starring with Matt Damon).

Already well-known to arthouse audiences from roles in Pedro Almodovar’s films (All About My Mother), as well as Bigas Luna’s Jamon, Jamon, Woman On Top is the film which recently brought her to the attention of American audiences (and the studios), as it was a surprise indie-hit there last year. Unfortunately, although Cruz and co-star Harrold Perrineau Jr. are undoubtedly the best things in the film, as a romantic comedy it leaves an awful lot to be desired, specifically ‘romance’ and ‘comedy'!

Cruz plays Isabella, a gifted chef in Brazil, who marries restaurant-owner Toninho (Murilo Benicio), believing him to be the love of her life. Unfortunately, a severe case of motion sickness, means that she has to be in control of any movement she makes, including during sex (hence the rather crappy title).

This proves too much for her macho husband, and when she catches him with another woman, she leaves him and escapes to San Francisco (And all this is barely before the opening credits have finished!). Once in San Francisco, she hooks up with her old friend ‘Monica’ (Harrold Perrineau Jr. in drag again, so clearly not afraid of type-casting), and indulges in a voodoo spell to make her stop loving Toninho.

The magical charms of her cooking swiftly bewitch the locals, including TV executive Mark Feuerstein, and in no time at all, she is a celebrity chef with her own TV show. Meanwhile, armed with a bunch of troubadors, Toninho sets out to win her back.

The main problem with the film, in terms of the central romance, is that you never really care enough about Toninho to want to see them get back together. Also, the whole conceit of the various spells and goddesses (the Sea Goddess appears to have compensated Isabella’s motion-sickness by giving her magical culinary abilities that make everyone fall in love with her) is heavy-handed and doesn’t really work.

In fact, the whole idea was handled much better in Alfonso Arau’s 1991 hit Like Water For Chocolate (although Woman On Top is at least better than tedious Sarah Michelle Gellar vehicle Simply Irresistible, which ripped off the same story).

As for the comedy, there are one or two good gags (Isabella paying a taxi driver to let her drive etc) and Perrineau steals every scene he’s in, but scenes that are meant to be hilarious, such as hordes of men following Isabella everywhere she goes (this is SAN FRANCISCO – geddit?) fall flat, and end up reminding you of sub-par 1960s comedies.

On the plus side, there’s an excellent soundtrack and some of the photography will have you booking flights to both Rio and San Francisco, but the only real reason to see this is Cruz. And since you’ll have ample opportunities to do that in much better films later this year. It’s probably best to give this a miss.

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Content updated: 17/12/2017 15:55

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