Isabella is a great cook, making her husband's restaurant in Bahia, Brazil, a success. To control her motion sickness, she must do the driving and be on top during sex, which drives her macho husband, Toninho, to infidelities. Heart-broken, she leaves for San Francisco, moving in with her childhood friend, Monica, a cross-dresser. To mend her heart, she makes an offering to Yemanja, the goddess of the sea. The goddess responds: Isabella no longer loves and the fish in Bahia no longer bite. Stricken, Toninho heads north to get her back; he finds her hosting a popular TV show, Passion Food, courted by its producer. Can he learn humility? Can she find happiness without him? Written by
One of the hallmarks of independent cinema is that the filmmakers do not under-estimate their audiences, who tend to be better informed, more intelligent, and more demanding than those who view only Hollywood's outpourings. Thus, they are emancipated from the necessity to be blunt. They can create films of integrity, subtlety, and convey emotions and intellectual content that is never present in more mainstream films. However, this is not the case with Woman on Top. Despite being an independent film, distributed by Searchlight, who also handled the excellent Boys Don't Cry, it seems to want nothing more than to be a mainstream film. This is, perhaps, what is most offensive about it.
It is at this point that I ought to inform you that in the proceeding paragraphs, there are comments which may reveal elements of the plot of this film, such as it is.
In the hour or so that I managed to stomach of this unrelentingly vapid film, the plot barely managed to limp forward from its starting point. The characters were not developed beyond their appearances. The primary character, a female chef from Brazil who moves to San Francisco after the breakdown of her marriage, and all her actions, seem based solely on her aesthetic appeal. Indeed, this is also one of the few sources of the tired humour present in the film. These comedic moments are, without exception, crude and desperately unfunny. Listless slapstick moments rub shoulders with endless scenes of men drooling over the young Brazilian woman and staring in disbelief at her transvestite friend, evidently present to add some essential uniqueness to the film and because, as everyone is aware, anyone who lives in San Francisco is either an intellectual or a transvestite.
Cinema, without doubt, has huge potential as a medium for artistic expression, and there are independent films that are intelligent, well-made and engaging. However, Woman on Top, in striving desperately to be a mainstream success, sacrifices any shred of dignity or integrity one could hope to see in a film. Thus, and in sum, it is nothing more than a lazily made, dim-witted film, painfully unfunny and, if taken as an indication of the drift of independent movies (which, incidentally, I don't think, or at least hope, it is) rather worrying, and certainly sickening.
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