Under that artfully styled heap of cascading curls is Sarah Jessica Parker in Miami Rhapsody. You couldn't wish for a sexier, savvier funny girl. Remember the flirtatious way she measured Steve Martin's inseam in L.A. Story or scolded Nicolas Cage for using her body as a gambling chit in Honeymoon in Vegas or stripped down to a cone bra so Johnny Depp could wear her Angora sweater in Ed Wood? Memorable Parker moments for sure, but they happened in male-dominated movies that forced her to angle for attention.
Miami Rhapsody, a sunny romantic comedy with a sitcom soul aspiring to Woody Allen wit, shrewdly puts Parker front and center. She plays Gwyn Marcus, an advertising copywriter with an ambition to write television comedy. Why not? Writer David Frankel, in his feature directing debut, is the man behind Grapevine; Teech; Doctor, Doctor; and other TV misfires too short-lived to hold against him. Frankel is a bit of a slick joke machine. So is Gwyn. It's her defense against a world that bruises her tender feelings in matters of the heart.
Like the Woodman in Annie Hall, Gwyn addresses the audience directly in the first scene. She claims she has no substance-abuse problem "except maybe for hair-care products." Her real crisis? Gwyn is not sure she wants to marry Matt (the appealing Gil Bellows), the zoologist she's engaged to. She marshals the evidence against wedlock: Her mother, Nina (Mia Farrow), is having an affair with Antonio (Antonio Banderas), the Cuban nurse in her grandmother's nursing home. Her father, Vic (Paul Mazursky), is screwing his travel agent Zelda (Kelly Bishop). Her brother, Jordan (Kevin Pollack), is cheating on his pregnant wife, Terri (Barbara Garrick), with Kaia (Naomi Campbell), the supermodel girlfriend of his business partner. Her sister, Leslie (Carla Gugino), who just married a Miami Dolphin named Jeff (former Houston Oiler Bo Eason in a try at acting), wants to use Gwyn's apartment for a quickie with an ex-boyfriend. Gwyn, an old-fashioned girl with a touch of New Age spiritualism, is watching her life turn into an episode of Melrose Place.
Frankel tries with mixed success to use Miami the way Allen uses Manhattan — as a racial, sexual and geographical crazy quilt that indelibly marks the people who live, work or just visit there. Cinematographer Jack Wallner tracks these lovers and losers onto touristy beaches and into exotic local hideaways. It's La Ronde Miami style, but Frankel is too ingratiating to cut very deep. The film works best when Frankel orchestrates his Rhapsody to show the hardscrabble reality of living in a city that sells fantasy.
Gwyn is floored by her mother's fleeting affair with a younger man. Farrow and Banderas, however, make it comprehensible in a terrific seduction scene that starts with him showing her his at-home exercise equipment. Nina tells Gwyn she still loves her husband but misses the thrill of being pursued. Farrow brings you right into those emotions. It's odd at first seeing her in such a faux Allen film — as a Jewish matriarch, no less — but there is a newfound ardor and sense of mischief in her acting. And even with his halting English, Banderas is a world-class charmer, making Antonio hard to resist.
Gwyn is drawn to him as well, complicating her life even further. Their strange, intoxicating romance moves the film past Hannah and Her Sisters and into Crimes and Misdemeanors territory. In bed with Antonio, Gwyn tells him to put on a condom. "How do I know who you've been with?" she asks. His confused comeback is a howl: "What do you mean? I've been with your mother."
Miraculously, Parker makes something hilarious and heartfelt out of Gwyn's confusion as she rethinks her attitudes about love. The film becomes a celebration of sticking it out in relationships. Though Frankel needs to develop his own comic voice — less warmed-over Woody — he gets the feelings right. And in Parker, he gets an actress who can make the notes in his rhapsody ring true.