The fishing town of New Bedford, Massachusetts, is described in Passionada‘s opening credits as “a little bit of Portugal in America.” In fact, nostalgia for Europe permeates the characters’ lives, and Dan Ireland coats feel-good comedy with a patina of Old World fatalism in this story of two people who change each others’ destiny.
Celia (Sofia Milos), who lost her husband at sea, is an improbably glamorous factory worker by day and fado chanteuse at night. Charles Beck (Jason Isaacs), a visiting Englishman and charming card shark, is smitten. How does a professional gambler woo a Portuguese widow? With lies, of course, and help from Celia’s daughter, Vicky (Emmy Rossum). In love and at the gaming table, all goes well—until it doesn’t. There’s much to admire here, including an often witty script and a cast that includes Theresa Russell, Seymour Cassel, and the irrepressible Lupe Ontiveros (Celia’s mother-in-law). But the clash between Ireland’s art house aspirations and the obviousness of his choices (tacky flashbacks, a glistening tear, a soundtrack that swells as the characters kiss) is grating. Fado is after all the music of romantic despair and longing; in it (unlike the movies), there are no second chances.