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With: Penelope Cruz, Murilo Benicio, Harold Perrineau Jr., Mark Feuerstein, John de Lancie, Anne Ramsay
Written by: Vera Blasi
Directed by: Fina Torres
MPAA Rating: R for some strong sexuality and language
Running Time: 92
Date: 05/01/2000

Woman on Top (2000)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Red Hot Chili Pepper

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

OK, so Woman on Top isn't a very good movie. I know that. But I can't help myself. I had a good time. I enjoyed myself for several reasons. One, I could stare at the magnificent visage of Penelope Cruz for hours on end, and Woman on Top is only 90 minutes. Two, My wife and I love to watch cooking shows together, and Woman on Top is about cooking. Three, I live in -- and love -- San Francisco, where the movie was filmed. Four, the movie is packed with very nice Brazilian music, which is kind of a greatest-hits package assembled by the director Fina Torres (Celestial Clockwork). It lends the movie a breezy quality and makes you feel like you're on vacation.

I have to be honest. I would see this movie again.

Penelope Cruz is being given top billing for the first time here in the U.S. She is well known in Spain for a variety of roles, two of them being Jamon Jamon and Belle Epoque, both of which played in the U.S. and did reasonably well. She has also worked with director Pedro Almodovar in his films Live Flesh (1998) and All About My Mother (1999). Last year, she made her American debut in Stephen Frears' rather dull cowboy movie, The Hi-Lo Country. She also appeared in the English romance Twice Upon a Yesterday, (which I alone liked), and the Spanish chiller Open Your Eyes (which no one saw).

I explain because, though I fell madly for Miss Cruz a year ago, many still don't know her name or her face. She emits heart-rending beauty, but she also has the stuff of a star. She has grace that makes other actresses look clumsy and a face that make other actresses like plastic surgery victims. Her voice is musical, with just a little hint of a lisp, and comes in that oh-so-sexy Spanish accent.

In Woman on Top, Cruz plays Isabella Oliveira, who cooks in a little restaurant by the sea where her husband (Murilo Benicio) sings. Unfortunately, she suffers from horrible motion sickness, and can't stand riding in anything, even an elevator. She can handle it only if she drives, which includes sex. She has to be on top. Her husband, in a fit of macho-ness, cheats on her, and she leaves for San Francisco where her best friend, a drag queen called Monica (Harold Perrineau, Jr.) lives. It's not long before her cooking and her charm land her on a local cooking show which fast becomes a hit. But her husband comes looking for her to try to win her back.

Not many romantic comedies are about a married couple trying to work out their problems (most consider marriage a mystical fairyland that comes after the end of the film). I have to give Woman on Top a few more points for that, even though it doesn't go very deep into this territory. The husband suffers for his crime, but the reason he's forgiven is chalked up to magic.

A bit of voodoo and witchcraft is involved in this as well. As far as food movies go, it's a lot like last year's fluffy Simply Irresistible (with Sarah Michelle Gellar), but more substantial. Yet it's not as solid as Like Water for Chocolate (1993), though, and not anywhere near the realm of the Great Food Movies, Tampopo (1986), Babette's Feast (1989) and Big Night (1996). Woman on Top is pretty lightweight. I would say it's like a food movie on a diet.

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