Passionada

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Passionada

Cast:

It's not too hard to make your own big fat ethnic comedy. Here's how: Choose a culture. Now choose the most cinematic aspects of that culture. (Music and food work pretty well.) Throw in a head-shaking grandmother prone to muttering insults in her native language, a couple of colorful supporting characters, and a star-crossed romance pre-ordained to work itself out before the credits roll, and bam! (or basta! or ¡ole!), it's halfway finished already. That's the formula that fuels Passionada, written by first-time screenwriters Jim and Steve Jermanok. And while it helps that director Dan Ireland (The Whole Wide World, The Velocity Of Gary) takes care in filling out the other half, all the attractively photographed food and thoughtful performances never quite remove the creak of calculation. Set in the Portuguese-American fishing community of New Bedford, Massachusetts, Passionada focuses on the travails of young widow Sofia Milos and teenage daughter Emmy Rossum. (Veteran head-shaker Lupe Ontiveros fills out the cast as Rossum's suspicious grandmother and Milos' former mother-in-law.) Close enough in age to understand each other better than they reasonably should, Milos and Rossum are like Iberian Gilmore Girls, only with an ocean view and without the clever dialogue. By day, Milos works as a factory seamstress, but by night, she sings mournful, traditional fado music (in a voice provided by real-life fado star Misia, whose contributions highlight the film). There, Milos catches the eye of down-on-his-luck English card sharp Jason Isaacs, who, in a contrivance that stretches the length of the movie, attempts to pass himself off as a millionaire investor using the luxuries of married friends Seymour Cassel and Theresa Russell. (At least the casting director has a decent sense of humor.) Though Isaacs wears a perpetual smirk that suggests he's enjoying a joke lost on everyone else, Milos and Rossum deliver performances almost charming enough to make up for the slow grind of the film around them. But when a movie relies on the whimsical arrangement of dead fish as a romantic gesture, charm only stretches so far.