This entertaining mid-90s musical comedy was one of the late Roger Ebert’s favourite Woody Allen films. In his review at the time of release Ebert indicated that Everyone Says I Love You might actually be his number one, and although that view was seemingly tempered by a little distance, by 2001 he still considered it among the director’s finest. And, quite honestly, it’s not difficult to see why he thought so highly of it: there’s an easy-going, breezy charm to this upbeat and witty film, which is full of trademark Allen zingers and amusingly-staged song and dance numbers.
Oddly enough, this would sit nicely on a double bill with Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums. Allen’s story focuses on a large, wealthy New York family, headed up by Alan Alda’s Bob and Goldie Hawn’s Steffi. They have two daughters – Lane (Gaby Hoffmann) and Laura (Natalie Portman) – and a newly-conservative son called Scott (Lukas Haas), while Steffi also has two more daughters from an earlier marriage to Paris-based Joe (Allen). They are DJ (Natasha Lyonne), who acts as the film’s narrator, and Skylar (Drew Barrymore), who is engaged to preppy lawyer Holden (Edward Norton). The number of family members and associated others at the dinner table means there are plenty of competing voices with much to say, although the loudest and most forceful of all is usually the family’s German maid Frieda (Trude Klein).
As the title indicates, Allen’s primary concern here lies with the loves of these characters, and he chooses to dwell on the mistakes they make or have made in the past. Lane and Laura chase after the same wealthy teenage boy, Skylar temporarily ditches safe bet Holden for a fling with Tim Roth’s newly-freed gangster and DJ, holidaying with her father in Venice, gets engaged to a young man after knowing him for less than a week. Meanwhile Allen’s recently-heartbroken character Joe chases after Von (Julia Roberts), a disgruntled married woman whose private thoughts from her New York therapy sessions are made known to the neurotic writer courting her in Europe.
Many of Allen’s screenplays focus on failing couples, and here more than ever the writer-director-actor seems to be working through the fallout of his own earlier marriages and relationships. ‘In a relationship, it is better to be the leaver than the leavee’ his Joe tells daughter DJ, before Von promptly leaves him, while Allen’s penchant for deprecating self-analysis can also be found in the way that other characters discuss Joe: ‘I’ve been trying since we got divorced to find the right woman for him, somebody to match up with his personality’, says Steffi. ‘I’m beginning to wonder if the world population isn’t too limited.’
The only solid couple in the film appears to be Steffi and Bob, though a syrupy sweet final scene in Paris featuring Steffi and Joe as they share their own regrets at the collapse of their marriage perhaps undermines the state of Steffi’s current union. As the divorced couple dances on the bank of the Seine there’s more than a flicker of their old romance, but it’s offset with an understanding that they’ve both moved on and can take a degree of pleasure from the fact their two daughters turned out well enough. It’s unashamedly schmaltzy, but there’s more than a hint of romantic magic about the setting and Goldie Hawn’s dancing, even if it anticipates Allen’s later unimaginative takes on European cities (Paris and Venice here equals apartments with views of Sacre Coeur, gondolas, etc. etc.). Ack…it’s charming enough and I’m willing to let this one pass without further comment, but I really don’t care for Allen’s simplistic, one-note take on Europe.
Linking the three cities together is DJ, who visits her father while he is himself holidaying / recovering from an earlier break-up in Venice. Lyonne is an actress I’ve always liked, ever since her supporting role in American Pie, and here she’s a valuable connection, although at times her voice-over is clearly being read from a sheet of paper or an autocue, and the actress also suffers at the hands of some of Allen’s writing (let’s just say he’s more successful at writing neurotic, male, Jewish New Yorkers of a certain age than he is at writing the innermost thoughts of teenage girls).
The film is at its most entertaining – and often bewitching – during the song and dance numbers, which pay homage to old musicals and incorporate jazz standards like Makin’ Whoopee, Looking At You and My Baby Just Cares For Me. The actors aren’t natural performers, either when singing or dancing, but I had a smile on my face whenever anyone broke into song or started tapping their fee. Some are clearly more competent than others: Goldie Hawn and Alan Alda can sing, but Drew Barrymore’s voice was apparently so bad a stand-in (Olivia Hayman) had to be used, while Edward Norton looks utterly uncomfortable throughout (top marks for effort, though, as he gamely soldiers on regardless). The choreography is often as loose as the singing, but it’s all suffused with such energy and frivolity that any amateurish moments can be easily overlooked, and you’re probably going to be too busy chuckling to notice anyway: the film’s tongue-in-cheek routines are increasingly, amusingly surreal, and include such sights as a man in a straightjacket pirouetting through the air, ghosts shaking away to Carl Sigman and Herb Magidson’s ode to carpe-ing the diem Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later than You Think) and a rendition of Hooray For Captain Spaulding in French, performed by a chorus of Groucho Marxes.
If it wasn’t obvious beforehand, the appearance of several people dressed as Groucho at the end of the film indicates that Everyone Says I Love You is, at heart, a celebration of Allen’s favourite things: sardonic wit, classic songs, the Upper East Side, Paris, Venice, musicals from the Kelly / Astaire / Rogers era, and so on. The story may be a little feeble and the performances may be largely unmemorable, but that doesn’t matter too much; a musical comedy stands or falls by its music, its dancing and its humour, and generally Allen and co get it right. There’s a strong sense of the writer’s passion for a certain skewed vein of American culture here, and while it’s hard not to roll your eyes at the appearance of yet another collection of Allen’s smug, wealthy New Yorkers, it’s even harder to resist the film’s goofy charms.
Directed by: Woody Allen.
Written by: Woody Allen.
Starring: Natasha Lyonne, Goldie Hawn, Woody Allen, Alan Alda, Julia Roberts, Drew Barrymore, Edward Norton, Tim Roth, Natalie Portman, Gaby Hoffmann, Lukas Haas.
Cinematography: Carlo DiPalma.
Editing: Susan E. Morse.
Music: Dick Hyman, Various.
Running Time: 96 minutes.