Woman on Top pretends to be your standard fish-out-of-water romantic comedy laced with touches of magic realism. When you break it down and look at its elements, however, it turns out to be different than most, which is ... more »good. Hot Spanish star Penélope Cruz (All About My Mother) plays Isabella Oliveira, a Brazilian chef who falls madly in love with, and marries, a dashing waiter (Murilo Benício). Throughout her life she's been a victim of motion sickness, and the only way she can overcome it is by being in control, whether it's driving or being on top during sex. Her husband starts to feel that as a threat to his Latin masculinity, and when he steps out on her, she catches him. She decides to leave Brazil and stop loving him, ending up in San Francisco with an old friend (Harold Perrineau Jr.), now a drag queen. There she meets a nice guy-television producer (Mark Feuerstein), who sets her up with her own cooking show. Normally in this kind of movie his character would be the perfect antidote for her heartbreak, but he ends up more seduced by the success of her cooking show than by her. When her husband shows up, she becomes trapped in a love triangle where both men are deeply flawed. Can she forgive her husband's infidelity and fall back in love with him? Forget the answer. The fact that the question is being asked separates Woman on Top from the other broad, romantic comedies that share its tone. Plus it's chock-full of seductive Brazilian music. --Andy Spletzer« less
"Penelope Cruz sizzles in her role as Isabella, a charming and seductive chef in a small Brazilian seaside resort called Bahia. She marries Toninho Oliveira (played by Murilo Benecio) who is a initially a waiter and later the owner of the restaurant where she wows the customers with her spicey and delicious original meals. They marry and are ecstatically happy, except there is one issue which complicates their life: Isabella suffers from motion sickness. Unfortunately, her husband Toninho makes one *fatal* mistake due to his frustration based on this issue. When Isabella discovers Toninho's fatal mistake, Isabella chooses to embark on a journey. First, she pays homage to the goddess of the sea in Bahia before leaving on her trip to the USA. She had received many offers of jobs as a chef in the USA and chose to try out her luck in San Francsico ...
There, Isabella looks up her childhood friend, Monica, who lives an alternate lifestyle which provides some comical scenes in the film. Other interesting features are the flashbacks to their childhood when Isabella first developed her cooking skills and discovered her talent. In San Francisco, Isabella loses out on a fantastic opportunity to work in 5 star restaurant but amazingly this loss turns out to be a major advantage. She becomes the favorite chef at a cooking school and is discovered by a young television producer. He is enticed not only by Isabella's beauty but also by her delicious food. He sells the network on creating a cooking program where Isabella is the star ... naturally she is an instant success.
Meanwhile, Toninho is very lonely in Bahia. He is remorseful for his past behavior and makes some offerings to the goddess of the sea with the hope of reuniting with his wife. He flies to San Francisco and discovers that on a hugely popular TV cooking program , his wife is the main hot and spicey dish on display. He pursues her with highly creative efforts but she resists. In one nearly successful attempt to win her back, he provides the back up music for her cooking program. As executives often do, just when everything is going extremely well, they make some inane decision, in this case it is to change Isabella's television persona for the worse. The film is worth viewing to see the extreme and extraordinary results which alter her program - all with the goal of appealing to a broader spectrum of the audience.
This is quite an entertaining adventure where a major dilemma is resolved. One of the reasons the film is so effective is that Cliff, the local TV producer becomes a rival for Isabella's affections, just when Toninho is doing everything in his power to win back his wife for himself. This film is pure fantasy and pure entertainment. It is a pleasure to watch Penelope Cruz who sparkles in her role. Murilo Benicio is also a joy to view but his character is less well developed which is unusual given his popularity in Brazil and his highly skilled acting ability. Mark Feurerstein plays a believable TV producer. Harrold Perrineau, Jr is an amusing cross-dressing drag queen. Overall, the film is quite funny and finishes on a most positive and satisfying note. Erika Borsos [pepper flower]"
A pleasure to watch. Totally entertaining.
Tsila Sofer Elguez | Haifa, Israel | 08/10/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is beautiful and sensual movie filled with Brazilian culture and folklore that is a feast to your senses. You can almost feel the burn of the chili pepper and smell the fragrance of the aromatic coffee that makes the San Francisco men follow Isabella in the streets. The movie is colorful and mystical and a large part of its charm is due to the amazing Penelope Cruz (an actress I learned to admire not only for her beauty but also for her acting talent after watching her in the Spanish movie "Sin Noticias de Dios") who totally controls the screen.
Isabella (Penelope Cruz) has had the motion sickness since she was a little girl. She feels bad in every kind of motion, unless she controls the movement - this is also true regarding sex; she has to lead. Isabella is a cook in her husband's restaurant. She does well and cooks delicious foods, but somehow feels neglected - as she is left back in the kitchen. Tonino (Murilo Benicio), her husband, feels he is not a man enough being "led" by his wife. And so, one night Isabella catches him in the hands of another woman, and runs away to San Francisco to try and build a new life for herself. She hopes to try and relive her dreams of fame which she threw away when she married Tonino. Isabella heads to San Francisco to live with her old friend Monica, a transvestite.
In San Francisco Isabella gains fame by having her own cooking show. She is also courted by Cliff (Mark Feuerstein), the producer of the show, who is attracted to the Brazilian magic. Meanwhile back in Bahaia Tonino is facing a lot of trouble. Having cursed Yimanza, the goddess of the sea, in a burst of anger, bad luck knocks on his door. All the fisherman are upset at him as the fish do not come to their nets. Customers stay away from his restaurant and he cannot live without Isabella. So, Tonino heads to San Francisco to try and get Isabella back.
The movie is a combination of reality and myth. The gods, so the movie begins, have given Isabella incredible beauty. The gods, and especially Yimanza, the goddess of the sea, control the love and faith of our heroes and respond to their gifts and wishes. Human beings are controlled by faith and there are those who belong to each other. On the other hand, this is also a movie that has something to say about feminine strength and its power, in spite of gods and men. Isabella has to struggle but she is able to get her own way. Between the lines the movie also has a lot of criticisem about the American and the American televeision culture and maybe its lack of warmth vs. the Brazilian culture. There are a lot of cooking scenes where Isabella explains to her viewers how to cook this or that sauce while intertwining this with her life philosophy (always share the dish with someone you love). The men watching her show sit groaning against the screen and I must admit - she is a delicious sight.
Penelope Cruz is able to portray sensuality and innocence at the same time. She is the one who makes this movie what it is. The other actors are a little pale next to her, except the incredible Monica (Harold Perrineau Jr.) who sometimes manages to steal the show. All in all, this is a fun, entertaining movie."
One Of The Best Movies Ever!!!
Yansa Mira Toussaint | OAKLAND, CA United States | 05/01/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Woman on Top" was one of the best movies I've ever seen. The bedroom love scenes were some of the most beautifully portrayed and sensual that I've ever seen without all of the nudity and vulgarity usually portrayed in American made movies. The scenes of the beautiful,Bahia,Brazil especially it's Peulorinho district where Isabella and Toninho live are also very beautifully portrayed and no place in the world is more lovely than the Peulorinho at night. Having travelled to Bahia I can testify that Bahia definitely has a magical feel and visitors to Bahia often remark,"Bahia Enfeitica" which means "Bahia casts its spell on you" and well it might given the number of African deities called Orixas that are worshipped in Bahia. Yemanja is often referred to as the "Mother of the Orixas" and offerings are frequently made to Her by Brazilians to incur Her blessings especially on New Year's Eve where everyone in Brazil goes to the beach at night with their offerings in hand all dressed in white. This movie is far from a fairytale as it beautifully portrays how the Orixas are very much appreciated in the daily lives of Brazilians.The directors of this movie were thoughtful enough to engage well-known Candomble priestesses Mae Lucia and Mae Stella to get an accurate portrayal of Candodmble and it's rituals. I thought that Penelope Cruz and Murilo Benicio did a wonderful job as a married couple and they have a wonderful chemistry together on the screen and although both have their flaws as individuals they learn by combining their strengths how to create the perfect dish. I highly recommend this DVD to people especially those that have an interest in Bahia and Candomble or just want to view a beautifully,portrayed love story. The soundtrack is also a wonderful addition to the movie. Yemanja be praised!!!"
A Tasty Dish, but more of just a side dish
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 03/28/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"WOMAN ON TOP is one of those films that was made, publicized and viewed as pastiche and because of its honesty as a simple romantic comedy, it rates higher than many of the over the top and overproduced competitors. The film is colorful, filled with wonderful Bossa Nova music, and has enough eye candy to almost make you forget the main dishes!
Isabella Oliveira (Penélope Cruz) lives in Bahia, Brazil totally in love with Toninho Oliveira (Murilo Benício) where the two have a restaurant featuring Isabella's passionate cooking and Toninho's macho front man role. Isabella has a problem: motion sickness - she cannot fly, ride in a car, or assume the bottom position during sex or she becomes violently ill (it seems that the sea goddess compensated her problem by making her an inimitable chef). All is well until Toninho has a brief affair that drives the crushed Isabella to move to San Francisco alone despite her love for Toninho. There she moves in with her old friend Monica from Bahia (Harold Perrineau as a superbly enacted crossed dressed drag queen) and begins her unsuccessful search for a job. In order to overcome her longing for Toninho and regain her culinary skills she makes a pact with the sea goddess, forsaking ever loving Toninho again. Eventually Isabella lands a TV show on Passionate Cooking when desperate producer Cliff (Mark Feuerstein) gets a whiff of her talent. She is an immediate success. Meanwhile Toninho, unable to endure life in Bahia without Isabella, flies to San Francisco and begins a series of Bossa Nova serenades to win her back. Cliff places Toninho on Isabella's show as background music and the ratings soar. But it is the ultimately the conflict resolution between Isabella and Toninho that brings the story to its expected end.
The story may be light and the script may be pedestrian, but the direction and camera work suffuse this film with Latin American magical realism and that keeps it lighthearted and fun. Cruz is terrific, Perrineau is the true star of the show displaying a sophisticated and sensitive acting skill that is very special, and Murilo Benício is not only a hunk and eye candy but also a fine singer and a warm actor who deserves a lot of attention. Story three, stars four. Have fun with this one! Grady Harp, March 06
Tries so hard to be quirky
Grady Harp | 02/21/2001
(1 out of 5 stars)
"This film was a real letdown. With a star as charismatic and charming as Penelope Cruz it's hard to make a truly unbearable movie. But director Fina Torres has just done that. The story about a woman who flees to San Francisco to escape from her miserable life in Brazil, this movie was full of possibilities.But it fails on every level. The romance is cliche. The comedy is so very predictable. And the movie tries so very hard to be quirky..but it ends up being annoying."