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Jealousy over spouses forges new; more successful frienship in Cousins


Written by Stephen Metcalfe.

Directed by Joel Schumacher.

Starring Ted Danson, Isabella

Rossellini, and William Petersen.

Opens today.



THE PROBLEM IN CREATING an enjoyable love story is avoiding sentimentality. Directors sometimes allow their characters to wallow in their emotions rather than using them to develop the story. Joel Schumacher's Cousins succeeds because he refuses to compromise his characters. They are strong-willed personalities who refuse to give into their emotions until they are forced to succumb.

Inspired by Cousin, Cousine, the hit French film of 1975, Cousins stars Ted Danson of Cheers fame as Larry Kozinski, a married dance instructor who is afraid of success. At his uncle's wedding, Larry meets the bride's daughter, Maria (Isabella Rossellini). Both of them are waiting for their spouses to return from "driving" and are nervous about what their mates are doing together. This fear drives them closer together. Within seconds, the two of them are exchanging very personal feelings, and their friendship has been initiated.

The next day, Maria accosts Larry at his dance studio to find out exactly what happened between their spouses. They clearly enjoy one another's company and semi-consciously decide to get even with their mates. This revenge consists mainly of spending time together, especially on Larry's boat. This game, however, soon turns into love.

Ted Danson is perfectly cast as Larry Kozinski. He shows a character who is smooth and funny on the outside, yet not content inwardly. He shifts from job to job, claiming that he does not want success when he is actually afraid of it. When he falls in love with Maria, a sense of direction is finally added to his life.

Isabella Rossellini's Maria is equally impressive. Like Larry, Maria is bored with her marriage. Her husband Tom (William Petersen) cheats on her regularly, but she remains with him for the sake of their daughter Chloe (Katie Murray).

While both Larry and Maria are afraid to begin a romantic relationship, they are not hesitant to play up their friendship. The main targets of this act are their spouses. Schumacher uses the conflict between the two unfaithful couples to give the story an added dimension. The relationship between Larry's wife Tish (Sean Young) and Tom is based solely on lust and as a result of this, they never really communicate as people. Larry and Maria, however, have a solid friendship, and this incites the envy of their spouses, who believe that Larry and Maria are lovers.

The situation of the two friends is in fact quite miserable. Both characters are afraid to act upon their romantic impulses because of the harm it will cause their families. While Larry and Maria are only happy when they are together, they are willing to sacrifice this happiness for the sake of others. Schumacher and cinematographer Ralf Bode perfectly capture the prison-like state of the couple. Individual shots of Larry and Maria are dark and somber. When they are together as a couple, however, light fills the screen. The most revealing shot of the film occurs when Larry and Maria, deciding the fate of their friendship, walk down a flight of stairs. The shadow from the moonlight on the railing encloses the couple in an imaginary jail cell. It is the perfect visual metaphor for the state of their relationship.

While Cousins explores serious issues, it is most definitely a comedy. Scene-stealers such as Lloyd Bridges and Keith Coogan as Vince and Mitch Kozinski supply some of the film's funniest moments. In fact, the funniest scene in the film results from Mitch's videotape of his great-uncle's wedding. Another comedic highlight is Gina De Angelis' Aunt Sofia, who provides the cynical view of love that is so desperately needed in a romance story. An actor who deserves special mention is William Petersen as Tom. It takes a lot of guts to play a character whom the entire cast is supposed to enjoy hating, and Petersen pulls it off wonderfully. There are even moments when the audience sympathizes with his loathsome creation.

A movie which tries to address several issues simultaneously is bound to have directional problems and Cousins is no exception. Schumacher and screenwriter Stephen Metcalfe occasionally lose sight of the points they are trying to make, resulting in a truly meandering film. Cousins, however, gets so many aspects of human nature and love right that this fault should not stop anyone from viewing this film.