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WHODUNIT? EVERYBODY

How's this for a comic premise? A Jewish American princess finally gets engaged to her longtime boyfriend. While everyone pushes to set the date, her nagging questions about marriage in the Nineties all come to a head with the discovery that every member of her family is having an extramarital affair.

Newcomer David Frankel's Miami Rhapsody doesn't hit on all cylinders. But it's piquant or wry or surprising in so many places that I couldn't resist it. Didn't want to. Besides, we haven't seen many smartass romantic comedies lately in which the heroine starts and finishes her story by talking straight into the camera--a stand-in for her gynecologist.

Sounds like Philip Roth country? Absolutely. And Woody Allen is staying the weekend. Frankel has studied these worthy models well, but he manages to put some wrinkles of his own into the fabric of modern urban anxiety. He gives us, for instance, the first engagement napkin ring. And a Miami Dolphin who's so cheap that he begrudges his bride the can of peanuts in their honeymoon suite. And an Oedipal joke with a real kink in it: Mother is sleeping with the male nurse who's been caring for invalid Grandmother.

Members of the dysfunctional Marcus family include Sarah Jessica Parker's Gwyn, the pretty, smart-mouthed advertising writer at the center of the maelstrom; Carla Gugino as Gwyn's slatternly, sweet sister; Paul Mazursky as their beleaguered father, who's been fooling around with his travel agent, and Kevin Pollak as Gwyn's brother, Jordan, who's left his pregnant spouse to sleep with the wife of his business partner. Just in case you're in the mood for a little extracurricular irony, Nina Marcus, the wayward mother having her way with a hot young Cuban (Antonio Banderas), is none other than Mia Farrow, who's still got that little Woody Allen stutter when she gets talking fast. Of course, with what she knows she could have written this thing herself.

Gwyn's case of wedding-bell blues and the assorted couplings of her parents and siblings are exaggerated, to be sure. But it's just this surreal, over-the-top tone that makes the movie work--when it works. Frankel seems eager to jam every nook and cranny of Miami Rhapsody with laughs, like a sitcom, or with ten-cent wisdom about the durability and compromise in a decent marriage. So the movie feels pretty crowded in places. But the hardworking cast gives us room to breathe (particularly Farrow and Mazursky), and Parker is a natural. Earlier, she played the ransomed bride in Andrew Bergman's wacky Honeymoon in Vegas, and it looks as though she's developing into one of Hollywood's best comediennes. Her style is straight-faced but winky, like Carole Lombard's, and she's got nice timing. So when she concludes in the end that marriage is like Miami--"hot, stormy and still a little dangerous"--she hooks us all over again.

You could do a lot worse with two hours.

 
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