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Alexandra Dupont takes apart the WOMAN ON TOP

Hey folks... Harry here with the utterly brilliant word weaver, Alexandra DuPont. Once again she will teach that young Robie-san the true meaning of reviewing film... and he will fall to his knees... tears in his eyes... having been enlightened by... the all-knowing one. Here she takes apart cute and adorable Penelope Cruz.... Awwwwww. how could she do that? Penelope is sooo adorable...

Alexandra DuPont Challenges The "Woman on Top"

Harry, I'll try to keep this brief. (1) I'm in a nasty post-romance funk, and (2) I just saw "Woman on Top," a wannabe "magic-realism" romantic comedy starring the fetching Penelope Cruz.

Combining (1) and (2) was, in retrospect, a bad idea. I see too clearly. I can't swallow the pap. And pap is PRECISELY what "Woman on Top" is.

Here's a quick breakdown: Cruz is, as mentioned, fetching, even when she vomits (which is surprisingly often; see story synopsis below for context). The Latin music is sensual and light, as are the actors, who play their parts with a gentle touch. (One of the supporting actors is TV's "Q," Mr. John de Lancie.) However: The humor, script, cinematography and visual metaphors are, well, they're pretty damned weak -- romance-novel weak, to be precise, which is of course not an accident. And to my jaded and recently love-scarred eyes, "Woman on Top" misses the mark on a lot of male-female relationship details, which I'll sort of get into below. Directed by Nina Torres from a Vera Blasi script. Rated R, which for you droolers among the AICN readership isn't nearly as promising as it sounds.

The rest of this review will be formatted in the form of a FAQ. If all you need is the above gist, do please jump down to the "Fun Links" section at the end of this review. You'll be glad you did.

***** The "Woman on Top" FAQ *****

I. Say, Alexandra -- what's "magic realism"?

Well, gentle reader, "magic realism" is one of those semi-recent film classifications that's sort of hard to quantify -- unlike, say, "comedy" or "science fiction" or "Super Mega Action!" Based on my own experiences watching art films and being talked at by snobs, I have come to understand that "magic realism" involves

(1) improbably beautiful, wine-commercial-ish cinematography with plenty of warm-sunset and full-moon lighting;

(2) lustful urges experienced in said landscape;

(3) silly, mythologically specious magical events that aren't questioned for a cold minute by the film's protagonists;

(4) A bulimic's obsession with food and wine: People must always be drinking and eating, preparing to drink and eat, cleaning up after drinking and eating, and/or singing while drinking and eating;

(5) and romantic and tragic situations bordering on the ludicrous.

The granddaddy of this genre is, of course, "Like Water for Chocolate," Alfonso Arau's surreal tale of lust and food. (Sadly, Arau pretty much torpedoed the genre he pioneered when he later directed the fetid, Keanu-starring cabbage "A Walk in the Clouds"; little has been heard from the director since.)


II. Where does "Woman on Top" fit into the magic-realism genre?

I expect more than one mainstream critic will classify "Woman on Top" as "magic realism" with less-interesting photography and an overgleeful happy ending -- you know, like that recent Sarah Michelle Gellar flick "Simply Irresistible," only cashing in on the just-faded Latin-music craze.


III. What's the story?

The tale begins in Brazil. A young wife with motion sickness who's a genius in the kitchen (Cruz) catches her husband (Murilo Benício) in bed with another woman; he's apparently frustrated because her motion sickness means that a lot of the relationship is on her terms, most notably in bed. Crushed, she flees to San Francisco to be with her transvestite pal (Harold Perrineau Jr.) and becomes a famous TV chef in about three days. The distraught husband tracks his wife to San Fran, finds men drooling over her televised visage, and worms his way into a supporting role in the show (!); wackiness ensues.


IV. Could you recount some of the corny/weak dialogue and more sit-commy exchanges for us, Alexandra?

With pleasure:

Narrator: "She could melt the palates and hearts of men." And later: "This is a story of love, motion sickness and the art of cooking. Ha ha!" [There is indeed a "Ha ha!" at the end there, which is sort of unfortunate.]

Lesbian cabbie [who keeps picking up key characters throughout the film, as if San Francisco were a small Andalusian village]: "Man, lady, what planet are you from?"

Penelope Cruz: "Brazil."

Penelope Cruz [as she conducts her feelings-based cooking class]: "You must bring all your feelings and experiences to the art of creation." [Later, she has her students sniff peppers.]

Friend/employee of the husband's: "When a man truly loves his wife, he never lets her catch him." [This is actually the movie's funniest line.]

Husband: "I swear on my mother's grave that you are the only woman I ever loved."

Penelope Cruz: "Your mother's still alive." [Badda-bing! Badda-boom!]

Television producer to husband: "You little Latin mambo mouth!"

Penelope Cruz: "I'm a chef."

Captain at chi-chi restaurant: "And I'm Jeanne Moreau!" [Does anyone reference Jeanne Moreau in their retorts these days? Did they EVER?]


V. What are some of "Woman on Top"'s central hypocrisies, Alexandra?

(1) When Hollywood "suits" take over Cruz's cooking show, they tell her to be "less ethnic" -- even as Fox Searchlight Pictures is exploiting her ethnicity to sell this Latin-lover bullcorn myth!

(2) "Magic" is quantified by the filmmakers in one of two ways: (a) They have end-of-"Raiders"-esque phantom vapors shoot out of Cruz's cooking and infect passersby, or (b) they cut to a shot of Penelope Cruz's breasts or derriere as men follow her -- said men being as transfixed as if they were starring in a really bad jeans commercial. But when the Hollywood suits WITHIN the film tell the camera operators to focus on Cruz's cleavage, it's evil and exploitative! Now wait just a damned minute....

(3) During one of the emotional climaxes of the film, the husband tells Cruz as an act of redemption, "I want YOU to drive! I want YOU on top!" Now hold on: Much as I cherish a chick pipe dream being depicted on film, I have to point out that he was ALREADY letting her do these things as the film began, and it drove him into an adulterer's bed! Can this marriage REALLY be saved without years of counseling and a good rabbi?

Also, I might add that these characters are ultimately pretty solipsistic: Cruz is charming and exhibits star wattage though a language barrier but she also comes off at times like a woman who's used to getting what she wants just because she's beautiful (save in the adultery and restaurant-management departments, but still). It sort of annoyed me. And before her husband leaves Brazil on his selfish quest to reclaim his wife, he accidentally curses the sea and kills his village's fishing economy. Um, isn't that a BIT more important than your marital travails there, guy?

All the above said, I liked the way they resolved the love-triangle dilemma in "Woman on Top." It's very, um, appropriate to the setting.


VI. Whew. I'm glad THAT's over. What were those "Fun Links" anyway, Alexandra?

(1) First off, did you ever wish as a kid that you could own a real-life "Speed Racer" Mach 5? Well, now you can:

Click Here

(2) Also: Author David Eggers (a current favorite of Moriarty's, I'm told), in a recent e-mail interview with the Harvard Advocate, went off on an absolutely DELICIOUS rant against the very stuck-in-college hipster mindset that dismisses artists for "selling out" or otherwise not "keeping it real." Click on the link below, click on the Eggers interview, then scroll down to his "addendum." It's a hoot:

Click Here!


Thank you for your time.

Alexandra DuPont.

Send You Love To Me!

Readers Talkback
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  • Sept. 14, 2000, 5:06 a.m. CST

    ah, Alexandra . . .

    by ol' painless

    a cogent, articulate, deliciously acid, and point-by-point demolition of the ghastly "Magic Realism" genre. I mean, "Like Water for Chocolate" was fun . . . . but someone should have told these idiots that the bandwagon has long since rattled off into the distance, and no amount of heaving bosoms, lustful consumation of chillies, and 'spicy' (read: 1980's) sexual politics is gonna set THIS turkey to flight. If I may be so bold as to mangle two incompatible metaphors together in the same sentence. Ha Ha! I had better watch my Mambo Mouth! Ha Ha!

  • Sept. 14, 2000, 6:41 a.m. CST

    Best Rip Apart Review Ever

    by IrishJoe

    the woman spat venom at something that without having seen or heard anything about it apart from this review i am absolutely certain it will suck. please woman review things when you are in a bad mood more often

  • Sept. 14, 2000, 6:45 a.m. CST

    Alexandra, the female Dennis Miller of AintitCool

    by dan-E

    No offense to Harry's writing style or Moriarty's often lengthy Rumblings but it's rather nice to see a review that doesn't read like a sports column from Micheal Johnson going through word-of-the-day toilet paper. You have Alexandra, and then there's the amusing Hallenbeck who writes like Holden Caufield with tourette. Seriously, that's a nice varied bunch to have writing for you. Oh yeah, the movie... I'm just waiting for "Almost Famous" but if I'd love get my hands on one the "Woman on Top" movie posters. Habaneros never looked more scrumptious.

  • Sept. 14, 2000, 8:32 a.m. CST

    great review, but....

    by sugarbear

    This was an incredibly well-reasoned, cogent review, marred only by the overly condescending tone toward magic realism. The magic realism genre has its origins in Latin American fiction by such masters as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jorge L. Borges (and has been carried on by comix geniuses Los Bros Hernandez). It may be overused and/or groan-inducing in world cinema, but it has a respectable literary history. Also, it bears pointing out that *A Walk in the Clouds* (whatever its flaws) was a decent-sized box-office hit, and whatever troubles Arau has had since can't be blamed on Keanu and company. Otherwise, I thought the film-specific parts of this review were marvelously insightful. Great job!

  • Sept. 14, 2000, 10:14 a.m. CST

    cooking the corn..

    by Scott Ridley

    I love a review that is intelligent, witty, insightful, and at the same time tear's the living crap out of such an obviously overcooked (bra-zillian) turkey.Not only will I now not go and see this film I also feel obligated to firebomb any local cinmea that dares to show it.

  • Sept. 14, 2000, 10:58 a.m. CST

    Let's give her a hand!

    by Goose42

    First off a great review - at this point I don't care what the movie is, because Alex's writing is art in itself. I hope everyone also caught the word "solipsistic" in the review and went to the dictionary if they didn't know what it meant. Fantastic review, and I would love to read any other writings you may have lying about. I am a big fan of people who actually challenge the comon formats (i.e. reviews, essays, interviews) of writing and tweak the establishment enough to sound fresh and innovative. Well done.

  • Sept. 14, 2000, 11:15 a.m. CST

    by who

  • Sept. 14, 2000, 12:09 p.m. CST

    second try.........

    by who

    Alexandra, you are right on! Like Water for Chocolate was about the only movie I can tolerate in the whole "magic/romance" genre. The Sarah Michelle Gellar attempt was one of the worst things I have ever seen(and I am a big fan of teeny-booper type movies)! Really, what was that? The whole crab thing? Ugh! So, thank you for warning us about this one. Although I must say, the dialogue seems priceless. Lates

  • Sept. 14, 2000, 2:37 p.m. CST

    F is for FINA

    by eriles

    HEY Alexandra, wonderful word weaver that you are!!! The director of the film's name is actually Fina Torres, a well respected Brazilian director. I wonder if you are unfamiliar with her, maybe you should do some research before spouting such opinions. Also, maybe a bit less whining in the next review.

  • Sept. 14, 2000, 3:24 p.m. CST

    Alexandra DuPont elaborates, apologizes and responds....

    by Alexandra.DuPont

    (1) Eriles, you're absolutely correct: It's FINA Torres, and I KNEW it was Fina Torres, and I even double-checked with IMDB to CONFIRM that it was flippin' Fina Torres ... and still I wrote "Nina Torres." I am a jack-a-napes, or maybe I just shouldn't write reviews at 2:15 a.m. Many, many apologies. Hope it didn't wreck the whole review for you, though it sounds like it did (even tough I spelled Murilo Ben

  • Sept. 14, 2000, 4:03 p.m. CST

    Penelope is so cuuuuteee! *belch*

    by superninja

    Sounds just a bit too sweet for my tastes. I'm sucrose intolerant these days.

  • Sept. 14, 2000, 4:49 p.m. CST

    Ban All Food Porn!!

    by bswise

    Hey Alexandra D., now that's the way to rip a movie, and you didn't use the word "sucks" once *sigh*. Personally, I'd much rather read a bad review than a good one (and SEE good ones rather than bad) just so long as the review is pissy and cerebral (see: Anthony Lane). Keep up the good work.

  • Sept. 14, 2000, 5 p.m. CST

    Alexandra DuPont's reviews...

    by Skywalker,Anakin

    ...have never been this hateful. At least the ones I've seen. It is good to see she holds her own quite well with that department also. I must tell you, Miss DuPont, I love your reviews, and you are not the only one who thinks this all latin-lover thing is a fiasco. I am a latin guy. I am not a mindless Chayanne-type with a tan. I don't like beaches. I don't live to dance mambo or conga. I'd love it if the studios would drop the idea that mexicans or the other countries of the latin community (They're all Mexico to Hollywood, right?) live in Zorroesque (or Desperadoesque, take the analogy you preffer) towns filled with flies and dirt. Kudos for not buying it. (But to honor the truth, Arau does nothing to keep this distorted version of the truth going around Hollywood, and neither does Salma Hayek or so-called latins like Jennifer Lopez or Ricky Martin.)

  • Sept. 14, 2000, 5:03 p.m. CST

    Oh, good. The posts are screwed up again.

    by Skywalker,Anakin

    How uncanny.

  • Sept. 14, 2000, 5:23 p.m. CST

    Does the film "Rough Magic" count?

    by superninja

    I guess so since the magic did originate from a mexican indian tribe. A weird, fun little film with Bridget Fonda and Russell Crowe.

  • Sept. 14, 2000, 8:01 p.m. CST

    What do those three movies have in common?

    by Lizzybeth

    Simply Irresistable, Like Water for Chocolate, and Woman on Top.. all three involve women with magical cooking abilities. I won't bother drawing any conclusions from that, since none of the above are any good anyway. ;) (Okay, LWFC was decent)

  • Sept. 14, 2000, 10:04 p.m. CST

    Alexandra, I actually liked you being on top.

    by devil0509

  • Sept. 15, 2000, 7:37 a.m. CST

    Chick pipe dream?!?

    by r_dimitri22

    Wait a minute. There are guys who don't let women have the top? That's a complete mystery to me. Women on top is my preference hands down. (Actually, hands anything but down.) Now the only question is: "Why aren't the women beating down the door of this soulful, romantic, good-looking, witty guy who is eager to fulfill their pipe dream?"

  • Sept. 15, 2000, 11:40 p.m. CST

    Thank you, ma'am.

    by AntiOtter

    For any extremely well done review. I saw the ads for this movie. I had no fucking idea what is was about, since the entire previews consisted of Penelope Cruz walking down the street in slow motion while guys acted like drooling retards to get her attention. Of all the movies in the "mildly attractive woman makes men stupid over her" (Truth about Cats & Dogs, Whipped, every bad 80s romantic comedy) genre, only "There's Something About Mary" pulled it off because it made fun of it. It looks like cliche is universal afterall