Set to the sighing, lilting sensuality of Tom Jobim's swaying love ballads, "Bossa Nova" is a pleasant enough little visual vacation. If its story and characters aren't exactly the stuff of great literature or cinema, filmgoers can still enjoy the lush beauty of Rio de Janeiro, the poetry of the Portuguese language and the silky magnetism of lead actor Antonio Fagundes if they don't pay too much attention to the movie's wispy premise.
That premise is love, here portrayed in permutations worthy of the ditziest soap opera. Amy Irving plays Mary Ann Simpson, an American who makes her living in Rio teaching English to soccer stars and would-be members of the Global Village elite. When a lawyer named Pedro Paulo (Fagundes) glimpses Mary Ann in an elevator one day, he is smitten, and enrolls in one of her classes to get to know her better. What ensues is the by now too-familiar roundelay of overlapping love stories, as Pedro Paulo's ex-wife crosses paths with Mary Ann's best friend, whose American Internet lover happens to be Pedro Paulo's client, et cetera.
That et cetera hews to the tiresome formula of just-missed connections, forehead-slapping coincidences and mistaken identities, but it's difficult to dislike "Bossa Nova" too much when Rio's beaches and unlimited caipirinhas beckon in every shot. Director Bruno Barreto (director of "Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands" and, incidentally, Mr. Amy Irving) is in love with his native country and his wife, and "Bossa Nova" fairly shimmers in the reflected light of his adoration. Think of it as the screen equivalent of a Calgon bubble bath: While the kids are taking their mental summer vacation at "Dinosaur" and "M:I2," you can lean back, turn your brain off and let "Bossa Nova" take you away.
Starring Amy Irving, Antonio Fagundes
Directed by Bruno Barreto
Released by Sony Pictures Classics
Running time 95 minutes
Rated R (language and some sexual content)
Sun Score: **