Design for Living


Like many of its shaggy-dog brethren, Woman on Top is outsize, dumb, and eager to please. Ambling from Brazil to San Francisco in pursuit of a sylphlike chef named Isabella (Penélope Cruz), the film brandishes a gaudy primary-color palette, broad-comic staging, and a bathtub-tchotchke rendering of Candomblé (a northeastern cousin to Santeria). Director Fina Torres keeps your eye busy, but gorgeous, color-drained beachside vistas aside, you feel trapped in a theme cantina. Isabella, married to puppy-eyed beefcake slab Toninho (Murilo Benício), gets motion sickness at the slightest provocation, and Toninho’s macho demeanor suffers for Isabella’s coping mechanisms—which include always taking the top when they back that azz up. When she catches him making like a missionary with another woman, Isabella saunters off to the States, where she quickly nabs her own local cooking show (the set design of which roughly matches Woman on Top‘s own) and pines for Toninho all the while. The film is too flimsily built and baldly unfunny to bolster Cruz’s charms, but Almodóvar’s blessed Virgin is, as usual, winning and guilelessly seductive.

Nisha Ganatra writes, directs, and stars in Chutney Popcorn, and while her feature debut is low-key and affectionate, it’s also hobbled by wish fulfillment and identity posturing. Ganatra plays Reena, an Indian American henna artist who bears a child for her infertile sister, Sarita, and brother-in-law against the immediate wishes of her white girlfriend, traditional Indian mom, and—as it turns out—Sarita herself. The director has a fitfully deployed gift for droll humor, but Chutney Popcorn mostly provides evidence that the ins and outs of the improvised multiparent family can be as prosaic as the nuclear Eisenhower model.

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