Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Fina Torres
Stars: Penelope Cruz, Murilo Benicio, Mark Feuerstein, Harold Perrineau jr
Food, romance, sex, magic. It’s a recipe that has been well used by film makers to tantalise audiences with a mix of mouth watering gastronomic delights and insightful explorations of complex personal relationships (Big Night, Like Water For Chocolate, Simply Irresistible, Soul Food, Au Petit Marguery, etc). The same ingredients are very much in evidence in Woman On Top, a light weight confection that will please audiences starved for enjoyable romantic comedies that follow a path less well traveled by film makers.
In her biggest role in an English language movie yet, the luminous, smoldering Spanish actress Penelope Cruz (If Only, several films with Pedro Almodovar, etc) sizzles up the screen. Cruz plays Isabella, a beautiful, fiery Brazilian woman with rare culinary talent, whose spicy creations affect the emotions of other wise level headed men. When she catches her restaurateur husband Tonino (Murilo Benicio) in bed with another woman, Isabella packs her bags. Overcoming her motion sickness, Isabella flies to San Francisco to try and kick start her dream of becoming a famous chef.
She shares an apartment with her childhood friend Monique (Harold Perrineau jr, from Smoke, etc), a sassy transvestite, while she tries to find a restaurant willing to hire her. But the seductive aromas of her spicy treats eventually capture the attention of Cliff (Mark Feuerstein), a tv producer who gives her a prime time cooking show. Complicating matters is the arrival of a love sick Tonino, who desperately tries to win back her affections. Isabella’s show becomes a ratings winner, but she soon finds herself having to deal with the machinations of network executives, as well as having to choose between Tonino and Cliff.
Woman On Top is a romantic comedy about a love triangle, and the familiar plot is spiced up with some catchy Latin rhythms, much like last year’s disappointing Bossa Nova. Director Fina Torres keeps the film moving at a brisk pace. The dialogue is often cliched, and sounds like lines from a power ballad, but that doesn’t seem to matter much here.
It is the stunning Cruz who holds the film together, and also holds the audience’s attention. She has a charm, vulnerability and earthiness that is captivating, and the camera loves her. Female audiences are also well served, as Benicio and Feuerstein are handsome enough. Perrineau gets the bulk of the funny lines, and he delivers them with a tart energy and wit.
Woman On Top is easy on the eye and the brain, and doesn’t outstay its welcome. But, ultimately, it fails to deliver a five star smorgasbord for audiences.