Everyone Says I Love You (United States, 1996)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

In the past decade, only two live-action, mainstream musical motion pictures have been released. While the first, Little Shop of Horrors, met with some success, the second, Newsies, was a box-office disaster. The poor performance of the Disney-backed film seemed to confirm the common perception that, as a movie genre, the musical was dead. Now, however, as 1996 draws to a close, two films are arriving to challenge that belief. The better-known of the pair is, of course, Evita. However, another musical has beaten it to theaters by more than two weeks: Woody Allen's Everyone Says I Love You.

Anyone who surveys Allen's career as a writer/director/actor will find three common threads woven through nearly all of his movies: wit, neuroses, and music. In Everyone Says I Love You, Allen once again combines these elements, but with a new twist -- this time, instead of relying on standards from the '30s and '40s as background music, he catapults them into the fore. His characters, all using their own voices, sing and dance to classics like "I'm a Dreamer", "I'm Through With Love", and "Looking at You." All-in-all, there are something like fifteen numbers, with almost every major member of the cast getting an opportunity to warble at least one line.

With Everyone Says I Love You, Allen is paying homage to the way musicals used to be made, back in the era when stars who didn't have great voices were occasionally forced to sing. Here, it doesn't always result in the sort of track you'll want on a CD, but it's nice to know that sung lines are not being dubbed, and Allen himself doesn't suddenly sound like Elton John when he breaks into song. Yes, it's almost painful to endure Julia Roberts' single number, but it's hard not to respect her for trying, or Allen for giving her the chance.

The plot, which centers loosely around one sprawling, extended family, is extremely complicated, primarily because there are so many characters. For most of the film, Allen makes effective use of his ensemble cast; only near the end does the crowd of people vying for screen time turn into a detriment. That's not a surprise, however, considering that the last fifteen minutes of the movie are its weakest, in spite of a wonderful song-and-dance number featuring Allen and a feather-light Goldie Hawn (who can sing).

The story is told from the point-of-view of DJ (Natasha Lyonne), the college-age daughter of Joe (Allen) and Steffi (Hawn). DJ's parents have been divorced for a decade-and-a-half, but they get along well. In fact, Joe considers Steffi and her husband, Bob (Alan Alda), to be his best friends, and, when his latest girlfriend dumps him, he flies from his home in Paris to New York to commiserate. DJ also has a step-sister, Skylar (Drew Barrymore), who is about to become engaged to a proper, upright guy in a suit (Edward Norton). Her stepbrother, Scott (Lukas Haas), has shocked the entire family by stating that he has joined the Young Conservatives. And her two half-sisters, Lane (Gabby Hoffman) and Laura (Natalie Portman), are trying to summon the courage to speak to a boy whom they both find attractive. Tim Roth is on-hand as a tough guy who recalls Chazz Palminteri's gangster from Bullets Over Broadway. Meanwhile, it's not long before Joe finds himself drawn to a younger woman (Julia Roberts), but it takes all of DJ's considerable powers of persuasion to get him to overcome his angst and pursue her.

When it comes to humor, Everyone Says I Love You is right up there with two of Allen's better, recent comic releases, Manhattan Murder Mystery and Bullets Over Broadway. Like those films, Everyone Says I Love You is overflowing with genuinely funny moments that span the spectrum from physical comedy to sly, sophisticated wit. Allen gets in a number of terrific one-liners, none of which I'll reveal here. His comic sense extends to the musical numbers, many of which are done tongue-in-cheek. There's one sequence where ghosts rise from the grave to dance around and another where doctors and patients form a chorus line.

One area where Everyone Says I Love You falls a little short is in its observations about the human condition. In his best films (such as Annie Hall and Hannah and Her Sisters), Allen has always used comedy as the proverbial "means to an end" of saying something insightful about how men and women interact with each other. Everyone Says I Love You is surprisingly shallow in that regard, going for numerous, broad generalizations rather than depth. Again, perhaps this is the result of having so many stories to tell.

Despite some unlikely names, Allen has chosen a near-perfect cast, only a few members of which are underused (particularly Natalie Portman). Roberts is luminous. Norton (Primal Fear) and newcomer Lyonne have abundant charisma. Roth is a hoot. Alda and Hawn make for a pleasant, albeit slightly off-kilter couple. And Allen, as always, is Allen. Even Drew Barrymore, playing very much against her sex kitten type, is effective.

It's difficult not to be impressed by what Allen has achieved with this film: successfully reviving the musical comedy in such a thoroughly delightful fashion. The production may be uneven, but it's still wonderful to behold, even at the end, when the structure frays around the edges. Of course, the real force that makes Everyone Says I Love You work is Allen himself. As actor, director, and writer, he once again shows that he's willing to take chances. And, in doing so, he gives us a movie that is recognizable as both "a Woody Allen film" and something refreshingly different.

Everyone Says I Love You (United States, 1996)

Run Time: 1:41
U.S. Release Date: 1996-12-06
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1