You remember those electric organs that your parents owned back in the 70s; the ones with the big ol’ foot pedals and the multi-colored toggle switches that enabled the organist to select different drum beats and rhythms? That’s how many of us in the midwest first got introduced to the Latin rhythm known as the “Bossa Nova.” Somehow it’s only appropriate that that’s the memory which springs to mind after watching Bruno Barreto’s film of the same name. For this “Bossa Nova,” unlike the sexy and saucy real thing, has about as much spice and zip as the watered down synthesized beat found on those old organs.
Pedro Paulo (Antonio Fagundes) is a high-powered Rio attorney. Estranged from his wife, who now shares their apartment with a Japanese martial arts instructor, Pedro wonders how to keep his sexy but flighty new intern Sharon (Giovanna Antonelli) busy and struggles with the lawsuit his third stepmother has filed against Juan, Pedro’s aging father, over ownership of Juan’s beloved tailor shop. Leaving his office, Pedro catches a glimpse of Mary Ann Fisk (Amy Irving), an attractive widow who teaches English in the same building, and is instantly smitten. Although Mary Ann’s best friend Nadine (Drica Moræs), involved in a long distance romance with a Soho performance artist named Gary, preaches the gospel of internet relationships, the English teacher remains unconvinced that wired love can replace the real thing. Her faith seems rewarded when she finds herself falling for Pedro while fending off the testosterone-fueled advances of fiery but dim Brazilian soccer star Acacio (Alexandre Borges). Driven by the city-wide aphrodisiac that is Rio, Pedro and Mary Ann quickly find themselves at the epicenter of a swirling storm of complicated, interweaving and interchanging romances. So interweaving, in fact, that Rio comes across as a city of about twenty people, all of whom know each other and are in various stages of overlapping romantic relationships. Barreto and screenwriters Alexandre Machado and Fernanda Young mercilessly abuse the “Coincidence” technique of screenwriting here. Fortunately, all the supporting characters are at least as interesting and entertaining as the main players; important since you realize that in this game of romantic musical chairs, someone’s eventually bound to get hurt. What’s harder to swallow is the blandness surrounding this film. Granted, this is a love story couched as somewhat of a screwball-lite comedy, not an erotic thriller. Granted also, that the middle-aged principals aren’t exactly going to be vying for spots as MTV VJs anytime soon.
Having said all that…it’s Rio, man! The shameless, bikini-laden “Inside Rio” specials that The E! Channel runs on Friday nights have a saucier attitude than this film, er, so I’ve heard. That’s not to say that “Bossa Nova” isn’t a sweet, even relaxing film with a considerable amount of charm. It is. It’s also as safe, passionless, and predictable as an episode of “Frasier.” In short, this “Bossa Nova” is your parents’ romantic comedy, so fire up that organ!