Woman on Top

This article is about the film. For the sex position, see Woman on top.
Woman on Top

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Fina Torres
Produced by Alan Poul
Written by Vera Blasi
Music by Luis Bacalov
Cinematography Thierry Arbogast
Edited by Leslie Jones
Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures
Release dates
  • May 2000 (2000-05) (Cannes)
  • June 24, 2000 (2000-06-24) (Munich)
  • September 22, 2000 (2000-09-22)
Running time
91 minutes[1]
Country United States
  • English
  • Portuguese
Budget $8 million[2]
Box office $10.2 million[2]

Woman on Top is a 2000 American fantasy romantic comedy film directed by Fina Torres, written by Vera Blasi, and starring Penélope Cruz, Murilo Benício, Harold Perrineau Jr., and Mark Feuerstein.


All her life, Isabella has suffered from motion sickness. Because of her illness she couldn't play much with other children. She stayed at home and learned how to cook, becoming a renowned chef as an adult. She fell in love with Toninho and they opened a restaurant together, with Isabella stuck in the kitchen and Toninho out front taking the credit.

The only way for Isabella to control her motion sickness is to control her motion. She must drive, take stairs instead of elevators, lead while dancing, and be on top during coitus. Feeling emasculated by this, Toninho has an affair with a neighbor. Isabella flees Brazil for San Francisco and her friend Monica, an African-American transsexual who spent her early years in Isabella's fishing community in Salvador. Despite old job offers from a number of restaurants, Isabella is unable to find a job until she takes over a cooking class at a local culinary school. Cliff, a neighbor and local television producer, smells her cooking, follows her to class and signs her to host a live cooking show, Passion Food. She makes Monica her assistant on the show. Isabella performs a sacrifice to Yemanja, a Brazilian sea goddess, to harden her heart and make her never love Toninho again.

Back in Brazil, Toninho's restaurant is floundering without Isabella. Toninho curses Yemanja, and the fishermen stop catching any fish. He figures out that Isabella has gone to Monica and follows her to San Francisco. He spots her on television and tracks her to the studio. With a group of local street musicians, Toninho sneaks into the studio and onto the set, serenading Isabella on the live broadcast. Cliff hires Toninho and the musicians for the show over Isabella's objections. Isabella pursues a relationship with Cliff but Toninho continues trying to win her back.

Network executives offer to syndicate Isabella's show nationally, but only after demanding a number of changes, including firing Monica. With the restaurant closed, Toninho apologizes to Yemanja, but tells her to "stay out of [his] business" with Isabella. He quits the show and makes another attempt to win back Isabella. Isabella goes after him but has to take an elevator, and her motion sickness slows her enough to allow Toninho to depart. Isabella also quits the show rather than accept the changes demanded by the network.

Isabella, with her love still gone but now wanting it returned, tries to cook another sacrifice to Yemanja but finds her cooking talent is gone. Undaunted, Monica substitutes some boxed macaroni and cheese. Isabella makes the second offering but nearly drowns. She has a vision of Yemanja, who rejects her new offering.

Isabella goes to collect her things from the television studio. Toninho, sent by Monica, shows up and suggests they cook something together. As they cook, the fish return to the village waters and Yemanja returns Isabella's original offering along with her love for Toninho.

The film closes with Toninho and Isabella operating a new restaurant as equal partners and with Cliff and Monica as a couple.



The film was shot on location in Salvador, Brazil and San Francisco, United States.


The film premiered in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival[3] and screened at the Munich International Film Festival on June 24, 2000 before receiving a North American theatrical release by Fox Searchlight Pictures on September 22, 2000.

Critical response

Woman on Top received mixed to negative reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 34% score based on 97 reviews, with an average rating of 4.7/10. The site's consensus states: "Despite Penelope Cruz's beauty and charm, the movie is too tepid to be a romance and too silly to be believable. And the movie is too eager to please with an ending that seems more like a cop out."[4] Metacritic reports a 41 out of 100 rating, based on 31 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[5]

Box office

The film opened at #10 at the North American box office, earning $2,008,191 in its opening weekend.[6] Ultimately, the film grossed $5,020,111 in North America playing at a high of 1,086 theaters; overseas, it grossed $5,174,163 for a worldwide total of $10,194,274, becoming a modest box office success against an $8 million budget.[2]


  1. "Woman on Top (15)". British Board of Film Classification. September 26, 2001. Retrieved November 18, 2016.
  2. 1 2 3 "Woman on Top (2000)". Box Office Mojo. Amazon.com. Retrieved November 18, 2016.
  3. "Festival de Cannes: Woman on Top". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-10-16.
  4. "Woman on Top (2000)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved November 18, 2016.
  5. "Woman on Top reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved November 18, 2016.
  6. "Weekend Box Office Results for September 22-24, 2000". Box Office Mojo. Amazon.com. September 25, 2000. Retrieved November 18, 2016.
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