Lovers of cotton candy romancers like An Affair to Remember and Sleepless in Seattle are often heard saying they didn’t discover Joel Schumacher’s 1989 Cousins until it hit cable and rental a year or two later because they either didn’t get to see it the first time around or, like me, can’t recall it ever opened. (Here in Houston it was dumped and then exited in a flash, with practically no advertising.) I’m told by people who keep track of these kinds of things the movie has become a certified repeatable—like Affair, viewers can’t resist periodically gobbling up the weep-spun sugar. The American version of Jean-Charles Tacchella’s Cousin, Cousine (which won a 1976 Oscar nomination for best foreign movie), Cousins is about the bliss of adultery. Though at first resisting their attraction to one another, Ted Danson and Isabella Rossellini soon discover their spouses—Sean Young and William Peterson—are having a series of quickies with each other. So when Danson and Rossellini do consummate, it may seem initially to be out of the urge of retaliation. But this is giggly infidelity as medicinal unfaithfulness—the foursome’s wrongs become sunny remedy for a twosome. It ought to be discomforting in an era of intensely false “family values” because the adultery and subsequent marriages are so damned interfamilial—it’s a little like the creepy incestuousness of Young and the Restless and Bold and the Beautiful. Instead, Cousins is a super-surprising celebration of “feel good” fornication and is now considered by some of us the best American film of its year. Why? Four answers: Danson, Rossellini, Young and Peterson. The first two are giving such comfy, affectless performances they appear to be winging it. Especially Danson: in his most satisfying screen role to date, with his billboard forehead and raked-over rugpiece, he’s gliding effortlessly—maybe even miraculously—without getting caught in the stickiness. It’s got to be Rossellini’s beauty and disarming naturalism infusing him with this level of congeniality; she helps turn a cuckold ballroom dance instructor into a matinee idol. Unlike her mother, who really wasn’t what we’d call a natural wonder (she often hid behind an aura of cool stateliness), Rossellini is artless vulnerability; the rush of love and warmth she springs forth—as well as receives from us—seems boundless. As icon, she glows from an inner source so powerfully positive it subjugates all. And who would have thought it possible to ever praise Sean Young? Decked out in the tramp chic of a would-be fashion diva, Young’s bouncy zipless sexuality probably isn’t revelation but it’s awfully entertaining. Peterson’s premature gray hair and stocky cockiness have rarely been used this well, and it’s his character enduring the movie’s few “realities.” If Cousins is antidote for Fatal Attraction, the 1987 slasher allegedly renewing the terror and horror in adultery, the truth is the hanky panky in the former is more openly commonplace. Social gatherings of large families can be hazardous, as there often are anxieties in the atmosphere about possible sudden bitch quarrels and/or fist fights, drunken scenes, secret liaisons. And flirty dare: a news anchor I know once had the hots for a friend of mine at one such gathering and as she dug into her purse to find a pen to write down her private number for him, a few condoms spilled out on the bar and, without missing a beat, she looked at him and asked, “Do you think they’ll fit?” More or less the tone of Cousins.

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Text COPYRIGHT © 2005 RALPH BENNER  All Rights Reserved.