'Rhapsody' is good imitation Allen

March 10, 1995|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

"Miami Rhapsody" is the best movie Woody Allen never made.

Tart, loose, fast, piquant and vivid, it's the story of a young woman teetering on the brink of wedlock, whose image of the institution of marriage has been seriously compromised by the adultery-o-rama transpiring all about her. Mama has her boyfriend, papa has his mistress, little sister has her boyfriend, brother has his mistress. There's a good deal of sex in the movie, none of it conjugal.

The rhapsody of the title, then, is the game of perpetual musical beds. Given that it plays like Muzak in the background, it is not at all unexpected for a bright young woman to wonder: Like, what's the point? And that's exactly what Gwyn Marcus (Sarah Jessica Parker) wonders, even as her boyfriend Matt (Gil Bellows) tries to convince her to tie the knot.

It's her introduction to the two Americas. The two Americas? There's actually probably about 25 Americas, but the two I'm talking about are: The official America, where marital fidelity, loyalty and honesty are the pillars of monogamy; and the unofficial America, where everybody believes the grave's a fine place, but none do there embrace, so they're going to get all the dang embracing in they can, Jack. In other words: Partytime, U.S.A.

Gwyn is just young enough and just idealistic enough to have a serious problem with the implicit hypocrisy, which of course is the fuel that drives adultery. Matt is just earnest enough to believe he can convince her that he's the one true one for her, and that her mother (Mia Farrow) and father (Paul Mazursky) and brother (Kevin Pollak) are at least honest enough about their dishonesty to believe they can convince her that adultery is a phase, not a lifestyle.

As Gwyn, Parker pretty much makes the movie. She's smart, neurotic and as fast with a wisecrack as Sharon Stone was with a gun in "The Quick and the Dead." If all this sounds oddly familiar, it should, because the young filmmaker David Frankel has set out to duplicate the pleasures of a Woody Allen film -- that is, of course, the "early Woody Allen," when Woody was actually funny.

The film is Allenesque at the conceptual level: As did "Annie Hall," it exists primarily in flashback. The real-time present is an appointment Gwyn has with her new gynecologist in which she recalls her current (manless) situation and how she got there. This structure frees Frankel from the tyranny of literal narrative, and enables him to wander through the ruins of the lives of Gwyn's family, where she encounters various lovers inhabiting squalid apartments, hideaway restaurants and one-nighter rented rooms. It enables him to get to the funny and get out.

But even more, it uses the same dramatic situation: That is, a somewhat awkward and alienated (but lovable) person confronts social convention with equal parts fear and trepidation. Stylistic tics are copied: One-liners to the camera, long master shots in which a whole scene plays without a cut (which may also be a budgetary tic).

It extends even to the titles, which are plain white script on a black background to the jazzy background of Louis Armstrong. Oh, all right: In deference to the film's locale of educated, prosperous Jewish Miami as opposed to educated, prosperous, Jewish New York, the titles are neon-tinted pink rather than straight white.

So why isn't "Miami Rhapsody" quite as funny or quite as meaningful as classic Woody Allen? Partially, it's limited by its very spirit of imitation. One pines, after a bit, for the real thing.

It's also execution. Frankel never quite achieves the Allenesque sense of comic density as the one-liners never achieve that surreal concussiveness of early Woody. But Parker is a fair replica of Allen: Neurotic, guilt-haunted, quizzical, unaccepting, so darned sensitive! And she doesn't wear those glasses!

"Miami Rhapsody"

Starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Mia Farrow

Directed by David Frankel

Released by Hollywood Pictures

Rated PG-13

***

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