woman on top(1999)
director: fina torres
penelope cruz, murilo benicio

. The acting is often flat and uneven, the plot cheerfully improbable, and the pacing loose and shambling, but somehow Woman on Top, a musical comedy about food, sex and Brazilian culture, actually works.

Itís not too hard to understand why -- the great musical comedies that RKO, MGM and Paramount produced in the 1930s had the same slapdash, cliche-fuelled plots and offhanded performances, but they worked as well, largely through the same combination of undeniable style and sheer charm. 

Penelope Cruz plays Isabella, a beautiful young woman from Brazilís Bahia coast, whose talent in the kitchen is mostly overlooked by her macho hunk of a husband (Murilo Benicio, a Brazilian film and t.v. star). She leaves him and their restaurant for San Francisco, where she moves in with her best friend, a lavishly camp transvestite (Harold Perrineau Jr. from t.v.ís ďOzĒ). The usual complications follow, involving the temptations of stardom, voodoo spells, impromptu musical interludes and the search for true love. 

If it seems familiar, itís because Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers did it over and over -- without the transvestite -- in films like Top Hat, Shall We Dance and Swing Time. In the end, everybody gets what they want and exits dancing, and the audience, it is supposed, leaves hungry and maybe a bit horny.