Brazilian director Bruno Barreto calls his 14th film a gift to his wife and leading lady, Amy Irving, and if Bossa Nova avoids tripping a single booby trap of the cinematic-valentine variety, it’s in making Irving’s character—ostensibly the magnetic pole for Barreto’s ensemble of limpwit dating misfits—so wan and humor-challenged. Irving plays an American widow who gives English lessons out of her Rio apartment—a set piece allowing for a few halfhearted attempts at sexual hijinks and, in consideration of the U.S. audience for which Bossa Nova is blatantly designed, ample opportunity to laugh at the funny foreigners with their funny accents. Barreto elsewhere courts the Yanks by retreading You’ve Got Mail with an Internet-romance subplot and rendering the Brazilian coastline as Miami brochure. The opening credits dedicate the film to François Truffaut, and Barreto’s allegorical reliance on translation mishaps, not to mention clumsy lunging toward a certain self-consciously naive romanticism, are surely meant to summon Domicile Conjugal. Truffaut may have dipped more than a toe in the bourgie reflecting pool with his light comedies, but Bossa Nova dives in headlong and never comes up for air.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 25, 2000