“The passion described in the title is the passion the characters of this small, genuine, Portuguese romantic comedy have for life and each other…”
At first glance, Passionada may sound like a movie playing “after dark” on some seedy cable channel. To the contrary, the passion described in the title does not occur between the sheets; rather, it’s the passion the characters of this small, genuine, Portuguese romantic comedy have for life and each other.
Set in the fishing town of New Bedford, Massachusetts, a beautiful middle-aged Portuguese woman, Celia Amonte (Sofia Milos) uses her day job as a seamstress to support her teenage daughter Vicky (Emmy Rossum) in the house she shares with her mother-in-law (Lupe Ontiveros). At night, she sings and dances at a local restaurant to a more somber beat, using her music as an expression for the loss she feels over her husband’s death. Even seven years after his death, Celia feels she could never love another, despite Vicky�s attempts to set her up on various online dates. When an English drifter and professional gambler named Charlie (Jason Isaacs) rolls in town to clean out the local casino, he quickly becomes taken with Celia and tries every trick in the book to con his way into her heart.
Charlie’s aggressiveness turns Celia off, as well as us in the audience. The open-heartedness of Passionada makes it very easy to instantly connect with the Amonte family struggles, especially the aversion Celia has to moving on with her life. As the film progresses, and Charlie’s attempts to win over Celia intensify, Passionada borders on being uncomfortable to watch. We know the real Charlie is a fraud, and because we now have a vested interest in the Amontes’ plight, we’re fearful Celia is destined to get her fragile heart broken again.
One of the film’s biggest themes is being able confront the past and offer second chances to those who deserve them. Unfortunately, this makes Passionada entirely too predictable — even its website boasts there is a “happy ending worth celebrating.” There’s no mistaking how it will finish; yet, director Dan Ireland adds so much depth and life to his film (compared to most romantic comedies) that the conventional story is outweighed by the film’s charm. Passionada succeeds in placing us in the small fishing town where Ireland takes full advantage of his surroundings by enveloping us with beautiful pink-toned sunsets, gentle sweeping city vistas, and painted blue backdrops with fishing ships gracefully pulling to shore. Combined with a splash of Portuguese culture, food, and fado (Portuguese folk music), we see the true passion for life these people share.
Passionada can easily be described as this year’s My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Both films’ successes can be linked to the dynamic individuals at the core of their respective stories executed with performances that are first rate. Milos is highly compelling as the torn Celia � her pain plainly visible in her rumpled, withdrawn eyes. The striking Rossum struggles with her own identity, yet doesn�t resort to playing Vicky with the typical teen angst we would expect. And as the family matriarch widowed for 35 years, Ontiveros doesn’t come across as a bitter woman from the old world; rather, she is nurturing to the sensitivities of both the younger women and encourages them to improve their lives. Passionada shines through its predictability to carve a fascinating slice of life fable with an infectious charm.