Woman on Top (1999)

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Released 15-Jun-2005

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Romantic Comedy None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1999
Running Time 88:02
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Fina Torres

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring Penelope Cruz
Murilo Benicio
Harold Perrineau, Jr.
Mark Feurstein
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $39.95 Music Luis Bacalov

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Woman on Top is a delightful film about love, sex and food - a potent combination fully exploited by the cult Japanese movie Tampopo. This is a more conventional mix of the three ingredients baked within the mould of a romantic comedy, but with a strong Latin influence married to San Franciscan sexual mores.

    Isabella Oliveira (Penélope Cruz) is a beautiful Brazilian girl with a special talent and passion for cooking. Unfortunately, she suffers from an extreme case of motion sickness - this includes all forms of transport and even physical sex. The only way she can avoid feeling sick if she is in control of the motion - this means that she has to be the one that drives the car, she must lead when dancing and she has to be the one on top when making love. This drives her typically Latin macho husband Toninho Oliveira (Murilo Benício) nuts - he wants to be the one on top for a change and in a moment of madness decides to commit marital infidelity. Unfortunately he is caught literally in the act. Isabella, heart-broken, decides to leave him and jumps onto a plane to San Francisco to move in with her friend Monica Jones (a man living as a woman, played to perfection by Harold Perrineau Jr.) and to fulfil her dream of being a famous and successful chef (Toninho currently keeps her slaving in the kitchen of their restaurant whilst he takes all the credit and smooches with the clientele).

    Once in San Francisco (and after going through quite a few air sick bags), she lands a job as a teacher in a cooking class but finds that she still misses Toninho. Determined to get him out of her life, she makes an offering to Yemanja, goddess of the sea. The offering is accepted, Isabella no longer pines for Murilo and starts walking around like an underarm deodorant commercial radiating confidence, sensuality and sexuality. Suddenly every single heterosexual man in San Francisco (yes, I know, all 15 of them) becomes infatuated with her, including TV producer Cliff Lloyd (Mark Feuerstein, also seen in What Women Want).

    With the help of Cliff, Isabella becomes the star of a new TV cooking show called Passion Food Live. Just when everything seems to be going well for Isabella, Toninho shows up. He misses her terribly and is willing to do almost anything to win her back. Unfortunately, Isabella can no longer feel anything for Toninho because of the offering to Yemanja, which is irreversible.

    What's going to happen to Isabella? Will she fall for the SNAG-like Cliff, or will she return back to macho sexy Toninho? Things come to a head when TV network executives start becoming interested in broadcasting the cooking show nationally.

    Woman on Top is a pretty light-hearted and fluffy kind of romantic comedy, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Penélope Cruz is of course drop dead gorgeous, and Harold Perrineau Jr. plays the cross-dressing Monica brilliantly and looks fantastic from almost every angle (I would kill to get cheekbones like that). There is also a cameo role by John de Lancie (who plays the infamous "Q" in the Star Trek:TNG) as Alex Reeves the TV station manager.

    Besides tantalising images of mouth-watering exotic food, the viewer also gets to see glimpses of familiar San Francisco landmarks, including Lombard Street, Golden Gate Bridge and the Palace of Fine Arts.

    Many aspects of this film remind me of the bizarre comedies of director Pedro Almodovar, many of which feature convoluted sexual relationships and lots and lots of cross-dressing. However, I get the feeling that the producers of this film were aiming for a sanitised and toned down version of Pedro, just like the character Isabella had to be forced to Americanise her image for national TV. I get the feeling that the writer Vera Blasi and director Fina Torres would have gotten a lot wilder if they had been allowed to.

    Still, I would thoroughly recommend that anyone other than the completely sexually repressed watch this.

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Transfer Quality


    This is an pleasing enough transfer in the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with 16x9 enhancement. Sharpness and shadow detail are more than acceptable, and colours appear bright and fully saturated.

    The film source also appears rather clean. The only negative comment I would like to make is the continual presence of minor Gibb's effect ringing, particularly during the beginning of the film. However, this is never severe enough to cause much of an annoyance, but makes the clarity of the transfer less than 100% perfect. The most annoying instance of ringing is during the Fox Searchlight opening logo, where it is distracting enough to cause flickering and shimmering in the city lights background as the camera angle changes.

    The disc comes with an English for the Hearing Impaired subtitle track, which I turned on briefly to confirm its presence. It is not 100% accurate, but at least gives you the names of songs played in the background, though not the lyrics. The disc is single sided and single layered.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There is one audio track on this disc, English Dolby Digital 5.1 encoded at 384 Kb/s.

    This is a dialogue-focused audio track infused with a wide variety of Brazilian music of various styles, including samba, bossa nova, forro, choro, and baiâo. I am a big sucker for Latin romantic ballads, so I really enjoyed the background music.

    I didn't detect any problems with the dialogue, which was mostly centre-focused, and there are no audio synchronisation issues.

    Surround usage on this soundtrack is patchy but acceptable. In general, background music is consistently spread across both front and rear channels, with the centre channel mainly reserved for dialogue. Occasional effects, such as rain (for example around 79 minutes into the film) are spread across rear channels as well as front channels but this is not done consistently and the audio track misses out on opportunities to envelop the viewer with ambient sounds - such as traffic noises which seem to only emanate from the front speakers.

    As this is a dialogue-focused film, the subwoofer is rarely utilised except during thunderstorm scenes such as during 5:35 and around 24:15-24:40.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    This is a bare-bones rental-only disc, so it does not come with any extras apart from the menu and scene selection. The menus are 16x9 enhanced.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;

    As this is rental only disc, the Region 1 sell-through release wins for the time being, as well as being available for purchase.


    Woman on Top is a light but rather tasty dish. It is rather mild in flavour, but has tinges of exotic and spicy ingredients, and is perfect for someone who is looking for something sensual and tantalising on the taste buds, but not too hot. It is presented on a DVD with a more than acceptable video and audio transfer, but being a rental-only disc no side dishes are included.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Christine Tham (read my biography)
Friday, July 13, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-626D, using Component output
DisplaySony VPL-VW10HT LCD Projector, ScreenTechnics 16x9 matte white screen (254cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVR-3300
SpeakersFront and rears: B&W CDM7NT; centre: B&W CDMCNT; subwoofer: B&W ASW2500

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