[Written for Mr. Showbiz]
What’s sadder than a would-be lilting comedy that just doesn’t lilt? It doesn’t help when someone decides to name the thing Bossa Nova and fill it with the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim. The music sounds as sea-breezy and listenable as ever, but Bruno Barreto’s movie is flatfooted to the max.
In colorful Rio de Janeiro (candy-cane cinematography by Wim Wenders’s cameraman Pascal Rabaud), love is ambushing people all over town. Some are looking for it, like Nadine (Drica Moraes), who has met and become enamored with an exotic American, a Soho artist, entirely via the Internet. Her friend Mary Ann (Amy Irving) isn’t looking. Two years widowed, she is content to give English lessons to a variety of Rio denizens, including a hunky soccer hero (Alexandre Borges) who’s been sold to a British team and needs to master terms like “modafocka.” But a glimpse through sliding elevator doors brings her to the attention of Pedro Paulo (Antonia Fagundes), a lawyer whose wife of seven years (Débora Block) has recently left him for a Chinese lover. Pedro Paulo sets about wooing Mary Ann, with advice from his Don Juan of a father (Alberto de Mendoza) and the incidental and accidental collusion of sundry additional characters.
There are whimsical touches: cell phones and e-mails standing in for real contact; a “trash-talking” exercise when Mary Ann and the soccer player trade — and garble — scatological insults; a moment when Pedro Paulo, who once apprenticed to his tailor father, surreptitiously measures Mary Ann by hand span and then rushes off to make her a blouse. And the always-welcome Stephen Tobolowsky ups the amorous confusion when he flies into Rio around midfilm. But even the promising scenes tend to sputter out rather than building into something. Bossa Nova is a film without a beat.