Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: Miami Rhapsody (1995)

Then When I was working in Birkenhead, researching public sculpture at the local history office, there was a Blockbuster Video on the route to the library. Birkenhead Blockbuster seemed to be the local clearing house for unboxed ex-rental tapes, which they were selling for fifty pence. It’s there that I bought a copy of Miami Rhapsody on the strength of the name. Knowing nothing about it, I watched in abject horror as I realised that it was a “copy” of a Woody Allen film and even then being in thrall to the master thought it blasphemous, unfunny dreck and said as much when I made my own inlay card for it later.

Now In Miami Rhapsody, director David Frankel does for Woody Allen what, Paul Verhoven attempted in Basic Instinct, Steven Soderbergh tried with The Good German and Todd Haynes succeeded with in Far From Heaven, taking the style of another director and inject a slightly different spin on it. With the presence of Mia in a matriarchal role, a casual observer might suggest that she’s saying to Woody, “see what you do isn’t that special”. Except this isn’t just a parody, or rough copy as New York Magazine (and many others suggested in a contemporary review, but an affectionate homage and one which I’m far kinder towards twelve years later.

Frankel is clearly a fan. As well as hiring Mia (who had to know what she was getting herself into), Scenes from a Mall’s Paul Mazersky plays her screen husband. His observation of Woody’s style is superb from the camera movements to choice of editing to the performances. As Roger Ebert notices, the film opens with an Annie Hall style confessional to camera from Sarah Jessica Parker (who’s mainly the “Woody Allen” figure for the duration) as she spends the film coming to terms with what she wants from relationships, stories of lust and infidelity amongst her family and friends spin about her, told in the anecdotal style of Radio Days.

If Stephen Spignesi had updated his Woody Allen Companion he would have had a field day looking for in-jokes. The film opens with the credits on titles cards against a black background (albeit with the wrong font) and a Louis Armstrong tune. At one point Martin Landau’s plotline from Crimes and Misdemeanours is retold with Kelly (Emily Gilmore) Bishop in the Angelica Houston part but with a much more positive outcome. At another, Jeremy Priven walks through dressed as Fielding Mellish from Bananas, brown rimmed glasses intact. Though cinematographer Jack Wallner is no Gordon Willis (who is?), he succeeds in painting Miami with the same beauty as Manhattan, except with a gold hue replacing black and white, and there are some technically very impressive steady-cam shots that drift through the city for many minutes.

The film has a raft of sweet performances. Jessica Parker is still a couple of years away from Sex In The City were her on-screen persona seemed to stiffen somehow and her delivery of some of the Allen-tinged zingers is eerie, her timing impeccable. The film captures Antonio Banderas in the same year as Desperado made him a star in the English speaking world and gives him plenty of room to show off his charisma. Mia’s playing a perfectly Mia character, slightly embarrassed that she should be the object of anyone’s affection able to show the facility for light comedy denied her in Husbands and Wives. Carla Gugino is also worth a mention simply because she’s one of my favourite actresses and um, that’s it. She’d later work with Banderas again on the Spy Kids movies and Priven on Entourage.

There are a few weak spots. There’s a certain narcissism amongst the characters which Woody would not have left uncommented upon or unpunished. Naomi Campbell appears playing a model and Kevin Pollack’s mistress and offers a non-performance but not in the Robert Bresson sense (think Jennifer Tilly’s character in Bullets Over Broadway), apart from in one moment in which she has to become really angry which she manages to be almost naturalistically convincing. The storytelling is often muddled and episodic as for periods Jessica Parker reacts to other people’s confessionals as though Frankel can’t decide whether he’s trying to create an ensemble piece like Hannah or a linear story with a single main protagonist like Manhattan.

But Frankel isn't always slavish to Allen and like the aforementioned directors injects elements which Woody hasn’t yet, almost as a commentary. One of my favourite moments has Banderas visiting his mother and the scene, though still one handheld shot in a style similar to Carlo Di Palma, the scene is played entirely in Spanish with subtitles and lacks the cultural orientalism of the later Vicky Christina Barcelona. The attitude to sex is far more explicit. People don’t just talk about it, we see them doing it. A lot. In lingerie. As Jessica Parker’s character asks her mother at one point “Now is the age in which you decide to become promiscuous?” It was 1995.

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