Fox Searchlight pictures proudly presents a humorous and exotic film on relationships. "Woman On Top" is a wonderfully crafted story of a woman and her personal struggle for freedom and recognition. It constantly shifts between San Francisco and Bahia on the northern coast of Brazil, where Isabela (Penelope Cruz) is a talented chef and a faithful wife to her husband Toninho (Murilo Benico). After establishing a restaurant together, the couple seem to drift apart for a while, and Isabela realises her need to fulfill her own ambitions. Later, a fatal mistake on behalf of her husband gives her all the incentive she needs to migrate to San Francisco to start her life anew.
Once in the United States, Isabela is thrown into a whole new world of trial and opportunity, where she quickly gains a considerable reputation for being a vivacious and talented chef with her own television show. However, Toninho penitently seeks Isabela's forgiveness and plagues her efforts to gain personal independence and solitude. Isabela, who is determined to get a fresh start on her personal life, meets Toninho's efforts with severe resistance, and decides to date her yuppie producer, Cliff.
Throughout her endeavors, however, she is constantly confronted with several choices that seem to hover over her head and direct her towards her final destiny.
"Woman on Top" is a film directed by Fina Torres and produced by Alan Poul. The cast includes a few new faces, and is the first English starring role for Penelope Cruz. The Spanish beauty elegantly portrays a sensual and fragile woman from Brazil with a bad case of "motion sickness".
What is commendable, is the fact that the director has effortlessly engineered a script that caters to the incorrigible romantic, yet still satisfies the die-hard critic. While the film isn't overtly romantic or hilarious, it's still extremely entertaining. The acting is fluid and the emotions seem to be well depicted. Penelope Cruz is just perfect as the "Brazilian bombshell", and her supportive roommate Monica (Harlod Perrineau Jr) holds his/her end up as the clichéd drag queen. Strong and powerful performances can also be expected from the male cast (not counting Monica) who really seem to take the screenplay to new dimensions.
The movie is edited intelligently and the plot is adequately outlined as well. Smooth and intoxicating salsa music underlines the film's soundtrack and gives it an intrinsic Brazilian character. The director and his team have spared no expense to deliver an authentic slice of the life and culture in South America.This article was first published on 06 Dec 2000.