Woman on Top

Penelope Cruz is hot! Audiences in Europe know this well. Critics in America know this also. And now, the general audience can come to the same conclusion. Cruz is well on her way to becoming a huge star in America. She is already loved all over the world. American audiences haven't had the easiest time seeing her though. She's been in plenty of Spanish movies released here, including Belle Epoque, Live Flesh, Jamon, Jamon, All About My Mother (that was her presenting the Best Foreign Language Oscar last year) and Open Your Eyes, but these cater to a more specialized crowd. For films in English, she had a small role in The Hi-Lo Country and a larger one in the little seen Twice Upon a Yesterday (and wow her accent is sexy). Woman on Top is her first starring vehicle, and a chance for everybody to know and love her before she begins an ambitious slate of high profile movies. Her next three movies are All The Pretty Horses with Matt Damon, Blow with Johnny Depp, and Captain Corelli's Mandolin with Nicholas Cage. Not only is Cruz unbelievably hot, but she is also a phenomenal actor. She won the Spanish equivalent of an Oscar last year. She does not really use any of her acting talent in Woman on Top.

Woman on Top basically exploits her beauty. Everyone in the audience knows she is gorgeous. All the men in the film know this too. Just look at the way they stare at her the entire movie. Cruz is Isabella, a chef from Brazil. She has motion sickness, but she feels fine if she can control the motion. So she must be the one driving, and she must be the one on top during sex. Her husband Toninho (Murilo Benicio, Orfeu) is the stereotypical South American macho male. He cannot live with the fact that he needs to be on the bottom during sex. This is demeaning to him, and he cheats on Isabella. Isabella and Toninho own a restaurant, and he flirts with the customers while she slaves away in the kitchen. She decides to leave, moving to San Francisco to be with Monica (Harold Perrineau, Jr., The Best Man, A Day in Black and White), her cross-dressing childhood friend. She ends up meeting Cliff (Mark Feuerstein, Rules of Engagement, The Muse), a television producer, who gives her her own show. Isabella is different in that she cooks with emotion.

Toninho comes to San Francisco to try to win her back. He serenades her live on the air and the network loves this so much that they hire him and his band for Isabella's show, Passion Food. This creates tension for Isabella, who wants nothing to do with him, and Cliff, who has a huge crush on Isabella. Woman on Top is the kind of movie that is easily forgettable. It is a romantic comedy, but unlike most others, is not stupid or inane. Cute may be the best word to describe it. Or possibly blissfully ignorant. Vera Blasi's script is so earnest and simple that it is infectious. It helps that the music is constant and beautiful, and the food looks amazing. In a way, it feels like watching a Brazilian vacation video. It's probably no coincidence that Blasi is scripting Tortilla Soup, the Spanish remake of the Chinese Eat Drink Man Woman, about a father (who is a chef) and his three daughters. Food and music are the heart of Woman on Top. And Penelope Cruz.

Woman on Top is essentially a fairy tale. Isabella casts a spell so that she will never love Toninho again. The aroma from Isabella's cooking wafts up in CGI smoke and drifts across the city, affecting anyone who smells it. Not really deep stuff, but by the midpoint of the movie, everyone is going along with director Fina Torres (Celestial Clockwork, Oriana). It is all one big piece of fluffy confection. Enjoyable for what it is, but looking into the movie any deeper will result in disappointment. For example, oddly enough, all the citizen of Brazil speak English with an accent, yet sing in Portuguese. Everything about the film is lighthearted and lightweight. None of the characters are complex, but they are amusing to watch, especially Perrineau. But look at what the camera focuses on and its clear that the only reason to see with movie is Cruz. She is constantly on screen, with tight clothes and her hair gently blowing in the wind. A mob of men follow her to a cooking school. The Passion Food camera pans and lingers on her breasts. Isabella squeezes coconut juice. Heck, even much of the sexual imagery is relatively innocent. So basically, watch Woman on Top so that when Cruz makes more, better movies, it will be easier to appreciate her.

Haro Rates It: Not That Good.
1 hour, 33 minutes, Rated R for strong sexuality and language.

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