southcoasttoday.com – “City Luminous on the Silver Screen”

“Without giving away too much, this is a charming, delightful and uplifting movie experience with a very talented ensemble of actors. Sofia Milos is absolutely stunning, particularly in the Fado scenes. Hers is a noble and admirable balancing act of juggling difficult emotional nuances while in an emotional tug-of-war, and she does so with endless grace, bravado and elan. This could well be a major break-out vehicle for Sofia Milos, much like ‘Mystic Pizza’ was for Julia Roberts.”

Some 300 well-mannered and well-cultured sophistos settled into their seats at the charming Coolidge Corner Theater, and suddenly, I felt as if a part of me was on trial for my life.

This was it: my first viewing of the New Bedford-based movie “Passionada,” and I was getting tense.

After all, this movie was going to introduce modern movie mavens to this city that I love and hate, but that didn’t mean I wanted any of our dirty laundry aired in public. God forbid. Much like the poet, if I have a lover’s quarrel with New Bedford, it was strictly between us.

So, when the lights dimmed at the only operating Art Deco theatre in the Boston area, with so very much at stake, I uttered a quiet and fervent prayer.

Please God, don’t let this movie stink.

This thing was being kept quieter than the invasion of Normandy. Actually, Monday night’s showing was a fund-raiser for a Brookline mental health center, under the guise of a “research screening,” which is all well and good. Depending on whether you went to dinner or not, tickets went for $50 or $135.

The movie’s producer, David Bakalar, who spent more than $6 million to make the movie, was there to inform us that: “This research screening is strictly for market determination. No press members have been invited.” Then he paused and added, “But if you want to buy a ticket, you can.”

So, guess who had to shell out a hundred bucks for himself and our photographer? At least it was for a good cause.

Then, we all grabbed “a goodie bag” containing one 1-oz. box of Sun-Maid Natural California raisins, one 2-oz. bag of Dolphins & Friends candy, one bite-size Clark bar, one 16-oz. bottle of water, one truffle and a single Twizzler. I hadn’t eaten all day, so this was my Breakfast of Champions.

But my stomach was still queasy when the opening scene unfolded: An aerial shot over the hurricane barrier, a sole fishing boat headed out into the glittering sea, and Bang!, up rises the backdrop of the Whaling City as the words appear on screen: New Bedford, Massachusetts. A bit of Portugal in America.

I immediately felt a lot better, and it had nothing to do with the Twizzler.

Without giving away too much, this is a charming, delightful and uplifting movie experience with a very talented ensemble of actors.

Sofia Milos is absolutely stunning, particularly in the Fado scenes. Hers is a noble and admirable balancing act of juggling difficult emotional nuances while in an emotional tug-of-war, and she does so with endless grace, bravado and elan. This could well be a major break-out vehicle for Sofia Milos, much like “Mystic Pizza” was for Julia Roberts.

Jason Isaacs, Emmy Rossum, the delightful Lupe Ontiveros and Seymour Cassel are all terrific, but then again I’m prejudiced. I can’t differentiate between how much I like this movie because I like this movie, and how much I like it because I wanted so much to like it.

If you know what I mean.

The plot is character driven. There are no guns, no car chases (excluding a shot of Sofia racing down Centre Street, of all places, in search for her daughter), no violence, no nudity and an occasional curse word (even in Portuguese). This isn’t the “Gangs of New York.” This is the “Sweetness of New Beige,” in which the city evolves into one of the stars. Its “My Big, Fat Greek Wedding,” without the belly laughs, but with much of the charm.

It is an idealized vision of New Bedford — one of brilliant flowers and clean streets, of colorful Portuguese festivals and eye-appealing cuisine, of pristine skies and crystal waters and sad songs in a sort of soulful Portuguese Disneyland by the Sea.

Or as Fairhaven’s Steve Cabral, who appears in a dance scene in the movie (right behind the carne no espeto pit at the Feast), said after Monday’s showing: “The Portuguese will be pleased to see themselves represented in Hollywood, even if it is a stereotype. But it’s a start.”

And a nice one.

Everyone here is going to want to see this movie when it premiers in New Bedford, (which is tentatively planned for sometime in mid-August).

That evening promises to be a bit magical and absolutely electric.

And when the lights came up in Brookline, and the crowd burst into applause one hour and 37 minutes after the movie began (not counting the credits), I let out a sigh of relief because New Bedford never looked so good.

That means, we never looked so good. And I say bravo to that.

Heck, I wanted to move here, myself.

Dick White can be reached through the Internet at soitgoes@s-t.com

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