Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5.
USA, 2000. Fox Searchlight Pictures. Screenplay by Vera Blasi. Cinematography by Thierry Arbogast. Produced by Alan Poul. Music by Luis Bacalov. Production Design by Philippe Chiffre. Costume Design by Elisabeth Tavernier. Film Editing by Leslie Jones.
Whimsical romantic comedy that, even at its worst, is leagues ahead of director Fina Torres’ last faltering attempt at capturing the colourful culture of her native South America, Celestial Clockwork. Penelope Cruz couldn’t be more perfectly cast as Isabella, a Brazilian housewife so beautiful and charming that even the flowers in the flowerpots stand straight on end when she walks by them. Isabella is stifled by her womanizing husband who leaves her to cook her magic in the kitchen of their restaurant in Brazil, while he takes credit for all her hard work. She decides that when she catches him in bed with a neighbour that she has had the last straw and moves to San Francisco to live with her best friend Monica (Harold Perrineau), working her culinary magic on the California shores. She catches the attention of a television producer, and before you can say chili peppers she’s the star of her own cooking show. What Cruz brings to the film is not only her physical beauty, but a sly charm flickering out from behind her eyes that can’t be suppressed by Torres’ periodic lack of narrative guidance: at times the film threatens to run out of places to go, but something always comes in at the eleventh hour to keep you going for ten more minutes. Perrineau is excellent as Monica, and Mark Feuerstein does an adequate job of playing ‘the guy’. Brazilian voodoo, magical cooking talents and colourful characters who burst out into Jobim-inspired bossa nova at will all conspire to make this a thoroughly enjoyable, if not unforgettable, distraction.