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Woman on Top (2000)

Viewed: 10/02/00 by Qubert

Let me begin by saying that Penelope Cruz, star of Fina Torres’s spicy new romantic comedy Woman on Top, may be the most beautiful woman in the world. She sizzles and shines, somehow simultaneously exuding both sweetness and smoldering fire. Murilo Benicio (Toninho) radiates his own sex appeal, rugged and romantic. And Harold Perrineau (Monica) plays the prettiest drag queen I’ve ever seen on film.

You may wonder why I’m so focused on beauty. Well, Woman on Top is about beautiful people in a fairy tale world of bright color, sensual food, and angelic melodies. It’s also about female empowerment, as a young married woman strikes out on her own after catching her husband cheating.

Brazilian Isabella (Cruz) suffers from severe motion sickness, so horrible that she can’t ride in a car, dance, or even make love -- unless she’s in control, that is (hence the title). The sea goddess has blessed her with the ability to cook divinely in exchange for this malady, and she opens a restaurant with Toninho, her husband. She feels underappreciated, though, and she takes off for San Francisco after catching him with another woman. She soon lands a job teaching at a culinary school and attracts the attention of a local TV producer, who makes her the star of her own cooking show. Toninho chases her to America. To go further would give away the story, but suffice to say that all’s well that ends well.

Cruz makes the naive Isabella blossom romantically and emotionally. But Perrineau is the real find here. From his hilarious opening scene (“Free at last! Free at last! Thank Estee Lauder, I’m free at last!”) to his seduction of the TV producer while explaining how to attract a Brazilian woman, Monica is real, never falling into caricature. I look forward to seeing Perrineau in more films.

Woman on Top will not likely succeed in American theatres, I fear. It’s sensibilities are thoroughly foreign. Torres’s slow pans across Cruz’s body may tempt some viewer’s to cry, “Objectification of women!” But I believe the film projects a respectful and healthy attitude about sexuality: human beauty is to be savored, like a fine meal or a romantic walk on the beach.

Go see this little film. Allow yourself to be drawn into the lush colors and haunting music. Then buy the soundtrack and dream of love and food. You won’t be disappointed.

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