WOMAN ON TOP
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Penelope Cruz,
Murilo Benicio, Mark Feuerstein, Harold Perrineau, Jr.
Director: Fina Torres
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Widescreen 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: Trailers, TV Spots
Length: 91 Minutes
Release Date: February 13, 2001
Woman on Top is the kind of film that relies heavily on the
charm of its star to transcend some rather pedestrian material. It almost succeeds.
Spanish actress Penelope Cruz, known to fans of foreign cinema for
her work with Pedro Almodovar, Bigas Luna and others, makes her mainstream American debut
with this movie, a lightweight romantic comedy that mostly fails because it really is
neither romantic or comic. Considering her
two love interests in the film are the husband who cheated on her and a gawky small-time
television producer who sides with the suits when the cards are on the table, exactly who
are we supposed to hope shell end up with? (My
own wish was that she would decide she was too good for either of them, but, there it is.)
The title has an amusing double meaning: Isabella (Cruz) is a beautiful young Brazilian
woman with a gift and a curse. Her gift? She is an absolute master of the culinary arts. Her curse? Acute
motion sickness, which cripples her no matter what she rides in. Her only way around it is to be in control: she has to drive the car, she has to lead the
dance, and in bed, she has to be on top. This
doesnt set entirely well with her new husband, Toninho (Benicio), a fisherman and
restaurant owner who has benefited from his wifes gift, but is soon caught cheating
on her. Im a man! he
protests, as she runs away, I have to be on top sometimes! His friends chide: How could you do that to her? If a man truly loves a woman, he never, NEVER lets
her catch him.
With plenty of sickness bags in tow, Isabella flies to San Francisco
to be with an old drag queen friend, Monica (Perrineau, in a delightful performance). Using some ritual magic which is somewhere between
sorcery and theology, she helps Isabella lose her love for Toninho so she can move
The magical aspects of the film are sadly a distraction. When she walks down the street, dozens of men
suddenly start following her, and flowers spring up.
When a bead of sweat lands in the blossom adorning her garment, it blooms. The weather reacts to everything going on in her
life. It was a little much
moment took me back out of the movie.
At any rate, Cliff (Feuerstein), a local TV producer in need of a new
show soon discovers Isabella at a cooking class. He,
too, responds to her beauty and her cooking, and before long, Isabellas new show is
the toast of the town. It even catches the
eye of the desperate Toninho, who has come to town to try and win her back.
Much of the film from that point plays the game of
who-will-she-end-up-with, but as mentioned, neither leading man is particularly appealing. If anything, that aspect keeps the movie from
falling into the cliché of the audience knowing one of the men is right, and waiting for
HER to make that discovery. It doesnt
help the poor fellows at all that Ms. Cruz is so radiant, neither one of the banal lovers
even has a shot at winning our affections away from her.
I smiled quite a bit watching this movie
I only laughed a couple
of times. The story itself was not engrossing
enough to keep me interested, and, as stressed, the romance part of it falls flat. All that leaves is the charm of Ms. Cruz, who
shows some talent for comic timing and illuminates the screen like the great stars of old. Watching this, I was reminded of Breakfast at
Tiffanys, another film with a captivating star and not much else. Audrey Hepburns effervescence almost
elevated that picture into something worthwhile
but not quite. Ms. Cruz, who certainly has a bright future ahead
of her, can be forgiven if she couldnt accomplish the feat, either.
This film is a cornucopia of colors, and help make this one fantastic
looking disc. Shot after shot, frame after
frame seems meticulously constructed to include a wide palate of color, and every scene is
beautiful. Images are crystal clear and
sharp, and theres no instances of grain or distortion anywhere, from lighter scenes
to darker scenes. Reds are particularly
vibrant and natural looking, rendering without bleeding.
This is an excellent DVD to use as a video demo.
I didnt expect much from the 5.1 soundtrack, being that this
was a simple romantic comedy, but I was wrong! In
addition to clear dialogue and crisp music rendering, there are more than a few instances
involving weather and other natural phenomenon that bring the multiple channels to
dont be surprised if an occasional cue from the rear stage startles you! The dynamic range is quite good, and utilized for
maximum impact during the more dramatic scenes. All
in all, a very good listen.
If you like trailers, this disc has got em
in addition to
two for this film plus three TV spots, there are trailers to six more Fox titles available
Woman on Top works as a showcase for the delightful Penelope Cruz, but not much else. The lack of real laughs and romantic involvement make this picture too much of a burden for anyone to carry.