WOMAN ON TOP
© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.


           With her lustrous long brown hair, big expressive brown eyes and voluptuous figure,
   Penélope Cruz is arguably one of the most beautiful actresses currently working in world
   cinema.

           Having already conquered the movie screens in her native Spain in such various fare
   as the Oscar-winning
BELLE EPOCH (1992), Abre los oyos/OPEN YOUR EYES (1997)
   and  the Academy Award winning
Todos sobre mi madre/ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER
   (1999), she made her first forays into English-language work as Billy Crudup's Mexican
   girlfriend in the underrated Western
THE HI-LO COUNTRY (1998) and made headlines
   when she was cast opposite Matt Damon in
ALL THE PRETTY HORSES (2000). With
   the feather-light but enjoyable confection
WOMAN ON TOP, Cruz enjoys her first
   English-speaking lead and proves more than able to carry a film.

           From its opening credit sequence with its
Bewitched-like theme, WOMAN ON TOP
   
announces itself as pure fun. Cruz plays Isabella, a talented Brazilian chef who suffers from
   motion sickness. After her marriage to the charmingly sexy Toninho (Murilo Benício) and
   they open a restaurant together, she gets relegated to the kitchen. Her dishes are
   superlative creations and win her many admirers but her headstrong attitude and her
   need to dominate (i.e., be the titular female) lead Toninho to stray with a neighbor. After
   catching her husband
in flagrante delicto, Isabella hightails it to San Francisco to reunite
   with her childhood friend the drag queen Monica (Harold Perrineau channeling RuPaul).

           Writer Vera Blasi seems to have wanted to create a modern-day romantic screwball
   comedy and most of the ingredients are there. Cruz has the Irene Dunne/Carole Lombard
   role, although she's less ditsy than those comedic actresses. Benício, who is virtually
   unrecognizable from his villainous turn in
ORFEU, projects the appropriate Cary Grant/
   William Powell magnetism. He's not only handsome and virile, he serenade Isabella with
   sambas in a lovely voice. Poor Mark Feuerstein is saddled with the Ralph Bellamy role of
   the suitor to be rejected, in this case a TV producer who hires Isabella for a local cooking
   show which becomes a ratings winner.

           As directed by Fina Torres,
WOMAN ON TOP utilizes magic (like the aroma of food
   prepared by Isabella) to amusing effect. In one particular sequence, Isabella prepares a
   simple cup of coffee whose aroma makes virtually every heterosexual male in San Francisco
   trail the streets after her. But there is also a darker side to the magic: when Isabella wants
   to fall out of love with Toninho, she turns to a Santerian priestess who offers a purportedly
   irreversible spell. Eventually, the situation comes down to a fight between the gods and true
   love. If you can't guess which wins out, you really need to see more movies.

           This film is a delightful romp that is both spicy (thanks to Cruz) and sweet (its
   comic emphasis on true love). In addition to the leads who all acquit themselves well, there
   is strong characterizations from John de Lancie as the TV station manager and Anne
   Ramsey as an opinionated cameraperson. The luscious cinematography of Thierry
   Arbrogast and Luis Bacalov's delightful score conspire to create the appropriate mood.
   
WOMAN ON TOP is lightweight but luscious and ensures that Penélope Cruz has emerged
   as a full-fledged star.




                                           
Rating:                     B-
                                           
MPAA Rating:         R for some strong sexuality and language
                                           
Running time:        92 mins.