If I had walked in unsuspectingly mid-way through Miami Rhapsody, I would have sworn it was directed by Woody Allen.
This movie copies the specifics of Allen's style and content more exactly than The Brady Bunch Movie (1995) copies television episodes of The Brady Bunch. The only real difference is that this film contains an element that no future Allen film is likely to have: Mia Farrow.
Unfortunately, Miami Rhapsody is not a particularly good Woody Allen film. It is in the vein of Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) rather than the more adventurous Husbands and Wives (1992) or Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989).
We follow the intersecting stories of various couples and triangles. Gwyn (Sarah Jessica Parker, way pre-Sex and the City), contemplating marriage to her boyfriend (Gil Bellows), takes a close look at the relationships around her. Every member of her family – mother (Farrow), father (Paul Mazursky), sister (Carla Gugino) and brother (Kevin Pollak) – is mixed up in an extra-marital affair.
We have all the classic Woody Allen themes here, in that grey generic area between comedy of romance and comedy-of-manners: the fickleness of the heart, the difficulty of commitment, the problem of squaring affection with desire. An extra complication enters when both Gwyn and her mother find themselves entangled with the same lover, Antonio (Antonio Banderas).
Fans of Banderas will find much to enjoy here, and also something to ponder. As if to deal with the troublesome memory of his previous roles in Philadelphia (1994) and a handful of Pedro Almodóvar's films, Miami Rhapsody goes out of its way to establish Banderas' credentials as a heterosexual romantic lead. In the story, Antonio even has to convince his own mother that he is not gay!
Writer-Director David Frankel slavishly copies the worst aspects of Allen's technique. I have often found Allen's use of the camera and his staging of actors inert and lifeless. After all these years of constant practice, Allen sets up some scenes in Bullets Over Broadway (1994) so clumsily and rigidly that one can easily miss their narrative significance. Miami Rhapsody dutifully inherits all the longueurs and near-misses of Allen's approach.
This film offers passable middlebrow entertainment. Its message is the classic pitch of undemanding romantic comedy: life's like that. There is heartbreak, error, disillusionment, recrimination and shame, but ultimately people survive and the world keeps turning. Allen himself has not dared to trumpet such a tired piece of cracker-barrel wisdom since Radio Days (1987) – which proves that he is still at least one step ahead of his imitators.
© Adrian Martin April 1995