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Woman on Top

Starring Penelope Cruz, Murilo Benício, Harold Perrineau Jr. and Mark Feuerstein
Written by Vera Blasi
Directed by Fina Torres

IN SHORT: An average dateflick. [Rated R for some strong sexuality and language. 93 minutes]

It usually goes: Boy Meets Girl (that's Act One), Boy Loses Girl (Act Two), Boy Gets Girl (you toss your popcorn and soda leftovers in the trash and continue with your date). It goes a little differently if your star is super in countries where English is not the primary language. In that case you crunch Acts One and Two down into the first ten minutes and let a narrator set up what becomes the pursuit to win back the girl. You also keep the stars scenes short, in case her spoken English is impenetrable (which it isn't) and put in lots of camera shots of her face and upper torso while you stuff the soundtrack with enough songs to make a musical.

And then, because the folks who put Woman On Top together are brilliant conceptualists, you find a male co-star Murilo Benício who looks just as good to the women and let him sing eight or nine of those songs that run in the background of Cruz' portrait pictures.

With Benício and a reverse romantic story to please the ladies and enough screentime of the lovely Penelope Cruz to please the guys in an otherwise run of the mill romantic comedy which manages the feat of incorporating a character's severe problems with motion sickness into the storyline.

Simply, Isabella Oliveira (Cruz),a Brazilian chef madly in love with her husband Toninho (Murilo Benício) flees to San Francisco when she catches her man in bed with another woman. There, she rooms with childhood buddy Monica Jones (Harold Perrineau Jr.), invokes the gods to make her forget her true love forever, finds success on local teevee and a suitor in her cooking show's producer, Cliff Lloyd (Mark Feuerstein)

That invoking of the Gods bit, actually one God and a mermaid to boot is one of the most interesting ideas I've seen in a long time. We're keeping the story exposition deliberately lightweight, 'cuz that's what the movie is. Telling any more, other than to emphasize that the setting is San Francisco and that I didn't mis-type when I input that Harold is playing Monica, would strip the movie of the more than occasional very funny surprise. Perrineau is best recognized as the on camera narrator of HBO's Oz. He serves as an off screen narrator here and his work more than supports the story, even if you figure out the end of his story arc way in advance. Benício gets to react to the two best lines in the script. Cruz is adored by the camera.

Woman On Top, in general, is a good English language start for Cruz but the incessant fall back on songs -- Ninho lugs a bossa nova trio to the States to serenade his lost love, and gets more involved in her new career than either of them ever wanted -- gets tiring to sit through very quickly.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Woman on Top, he would have paid...


Usual dateflick level is $5. Sacrifices made to keep the story compact and English friendly make the movie more suited to a bowl of popcorn and pay per view.

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