When Sofia Milos first appears in "Passionada," a charming love story for adults, she has the impact of a goddess. Extraordinarily beautiful, with an aquiline nose, a full mouth and long black hair, Milos is ideally cast as Celia Amonte, a widow in her mid-30s who lives in the Portuguese American community of New Bedford, Mass.
We meet her at a ceremony marking the seventh anniversary of the sinking of a fishing vessel in which the lives of many were lost, including Celia's handsome husband who was so beloved by her that she has decided to stay in mourning for life. She supports herself and her pretty, headstrong teen daughter, Vicky (Emmy Rossum), as a seamstress in a clothing factory and as an impressive fado singer in a restaurant. (Fado is the traditional soulful folk music of the Portuguese working people.) She and Vicky live in a pleasant downstairs flat. Living above them is Angelica (Lupe Ontiveros), her strong, supportive and no-nonsense mother-in-law who lost her husband to the sea 35 years earlier.
Arriving in New Bedford about the time of the memorial ceremony is Charlie Beck (Jason Isaacs), a 40-ish, nice-looking, English-born cardsharp who has come to visit his old friend and one-time colleague Daniel Vargas (Seymour Cassel) and his wife, Lois (Theresa Russell), and to try his luck at a local casino. Unlike Daniel, who was able to parlay his gambling into a life of luxury and who clearly knew when to quit, Charlie is a chronic loser, and it becomes obvious that Daniel and Lois, who are as caring as they are sophisticated, have been supporting Charlie for years and not minding it because he is so pleasant to have around.
Writers Jim and Stephen Jermanok intricately yet briskly bring Celia and Charlie together. Not surprisingly, Charlie is dazzled when he watches Celia perform, but true to form she rebuffs his attentions. He persists, abetted first by Vicky and ultimately by Angelica, and ever so gradually a tentative romance commences. The con man in Charlie, however, surfaces when he insists on passing himself off as the owner of Daniel's splendid estate and yacht.
Director Dan Ireland and the Jermanoks strive for and achieve a light romantic comedy with humorous, fanciful plotting yet shaded by genuine tenderness and passion. As played by Milos and Isaacs with perception and imagination, Celia and Charlie are a beguiling couple, and the film attains depth through Celia's conflicting emotions and the complexity of Charlie's appealing yet flawed character.
In the way in which "Passionada" plays out, the filmmakers provide Ontiveros, Rossum, Russell and Cassel roles more substantial than is often the case with supporting players in love stories. Ontiveros' warm authority allows Angelica to command attention with a few well-chosen words; Rossum adds a lively, youthful spirit to the story; and Russell, as witty and sensual as ever, and Cassel lend the film style and wisdom.
Ireland's own style is graceful and unpretentious, and he clearly cares deeply for his people, which gives the film added resonance. No small amount of the film's pleasure derives from the inspired use of New Bedford, a historic and picturesque town, as the setting for "Passionada."
MPAA rating: PG-13 for some sensuality and a conversation about drugs
Times guidelines: An adult film suitable for mature teens
Jason Isaacs...Charlie Beck
Sofia Milos...Celia Amonte
Emmy Rossum...Vicky Amonte
Lois Vargas...Theresa Russell
Lupe Ontiveros...Angelica Amonte
Seymour Cassel...Daniel Vargas
A Fireworks-Samuel Goldwyn Films release. Director Dan Ireland. Producer David Bakalar. Executive producer Jim Jermanok. Screenplay Jim Jermanok and Stephen Jermanok; based on a story by Bakalar. Cinematographer Claudio Rocha. Editor Luis Colina. Music Harry Gregson-Williams. Costumes Rudy Dillon. Production designer John Frick. Set decorator Sophie Carlihan. Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes.
In general release.