Picks and Pans Review: Cousins

updated 02/20/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/20/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

When Cousin, Cousine was released in 1975, it seemed like the kind of comedy only the French could concoct: a crowd pleaser about the innocence of adultery. One of the many attractive things about this completely appealing American remake is that it maintains the Gallic flavor of Jean-Charles Tacchella's original—and seasons the story with an appreciation for the lunacies of love, American-style. In most ways, in fact, this movie improves on the source, which wore its sophistication like an emblem of honor. Filmed in Vancouver, Cousins is set in a sun-kissed, moonstruck world, where life looks great—because it is always in soft focus. As with the best French comedies, the plot is better savored than analyzed. A ballroom-dancing teacher, Ted (Three Men and a Baby) Danson, takes his wife, makeup saleswoman Sean (No Way Out) Young, to a family wedding. Young sneaks off to rendezvous with Danson's cousin William Petersen, who has an unhappy marriage to Isabella Rossellini. Thrown together by their philandering spouses, Danson and Rossellini reluctantly decide they are attracted to each other as their very extended family flits about at the same entertaining pace with which bedroom doors slam in a French farce. What makes this fragile confection tasty are the blissful performances, that render the preposterous romantically plausible. As the casual cuckold, Danson affirms his status as a leading man—this is his first shot as the male lead in a feature. Petersen is engagingly corrupt, and Young makes a delightfully earnest deceiver. But the soul of this love story is the mesmerizing Rossellini, who proves that Blue Velvet shouldn't deprive her of the romantic legacy she inherited from her mother, Ingrid Bergman. As a devoutly faithful wife ricocheting between that devotion and desire, Rossellini gives an incandescent performance that ranks with Bergman's most ingratiating work. This time, the cynicism that director Joel Schumacher has displayed in earlier movies, such as St. Elmo's Fire and The Incredible Shrinking Woman, nicely balances the sentimentality of playwright Stephen Metcalfe's script. In one memorable sequence, the families gather for nuptials at Weddingland, a marriage theme park where partygoers might find a teenage employee dressed like Cupid sneaking a smoke in the bushes. Like that pragmatic Cupid, Cousins understands that real life too often encroaches on real romance. This is a Valentine for the '80s, all right. (PG-13).

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