PassionadaReviewed By Rob Gonsalves
Posted 12/29/06 09:20:32
Celia Amonte (Sofia Milos), the part-time fadista in the romance "Passionada," stands in front of a clunky old microphone in a seafood restaurant and pours out her mourning in song. Her husband, a New Bedford fisherman, was lost at sea eight years ago, and she still pines for him.Though we don't really sense anything special between them in flashbacks aside from the usual clichéd frisking about on the beach, we believe in the full-bodied intensity of emotion in her voice (actually the voice of renowned fadista Mísia). Fado music, a sort of Portuguese version of blues music, speaks of unquenchable longing, a fate of resigned sorrow. The sound of it puts the rest of this rather thin movie to shame.
Is this an independent film? The distinction becomes less clear every year. My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the indie success of the new century, was at heart so comforting that no one was very surprised when it became a sitcom. Passionada, perhaps being groomed as this year's Greek Wedding, could be the pilot episode for a TV comedy-drama about Celia, her spunky motorcycle-riding daughter Vicky (Emmy Rossum), her sage old mother-in-law (Lupe Ontiveros), and the dubious love of Celia's life, card-counter Charles Beck (Jason Isaacs), who falls hard for Celia's singing and passes himself off as a rich fish-processing magnate to woo her.
Jason Isaacs, a last-minute replacement for another actor, is obviously relieved to cast off his usual skunky roles (The Patriot, Peter Pan) and test the uncharted waters of a romantic lead. He's quite winning when babbling charming nonsense to Celia, who seems to regard Charles with disdain. I don't know whether Sofia Milos is built for romance, though -- at least not with the material she has to work with here (by screenwriter brothers Jim and Steve Jermanok). Mostly she exudes an imperious sense of proud inaccessibility bordering on arrogance: Impatiently, we may urge her to stop clinging to her dead husband's bones and crack a smile every so often. Unfortunately, the script, by way of matchmaker Vicky and the wise mother-in-law, tells her that, too. Passionada becomes yet another seize-the-day odd-couple fable.
The movie was filmed in and around the heavily Portuguese city of New Bedford, and cinematographer Claudio Rocha brings out the rich hues of dusk and the lurid colors of the Feast, but the milieu feels generically "ethnic" and only marginally Portuguese. The most intriguing characters in the film, of whom we learn almost nothing, are Charles' rich friends with a shady past of scamming, played by Seymour Cassel and Theresa Russell (both in superb form). When Celia sees Charles in a car with the Russell character, she assumes the worst and dumps him, and Russell goes to Celia to talk things out; it's typical of the movie that there's a fade-out and we don't hear what's said between the two.
Passionada originally ended with Charles getting his ass flattened by some Russian thugs (in connection with his gambling, I guess) and going into a coma while Celia frets over the possibility of yet another lost love. The ending was radically reworked into the cutesy, happy denouement we get now, which throws off the story's structure (why the ominous scene of Charles getting nailed at a casino for card-counting -- which sets us up to expect that it'll be his eventual downfall -- if there's now no follow-through?) and goes against the soul of fado.This once might have been a bluesy, bitter movie about love's ephemeral pains and bliss. What it is now is a by-the-numbers opposites-attract romance in which every dramatic beat and life lesson comes on schedule. As for passion, Tobey Maguire showed more of it towards Seabiscuit.
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