Everyone says I love you
Woody Allen’s 1996 film is a shock. A shock in that it works so well. Opening with Edward Norton and Drew Barrymore in a scenic shot of Central Park, Norton is the first to throw caution to the wind in Allen’s well executed musical comedy.
One of the biggest victories here is that few if any of this can sing or dance; the music is treated with fondness not seriousness. The cast looks every bit as awkward as any ordinary person would be attempting a big musical number in the middle of Manhattan. Allen uses these simple and elegant songs performed by an obviously untrained cast to evoke the world the characters inhabit beautifully. A world of extreme privilege and almost improbable opportunity. In perfect suits, carefree circumstances and a setting deliberately reminiscent of the golden age of cinema, who wouldn’t burst into occasional song? Special attention must also be paid to the costumes that add a depth to a piece that could otherwise be too fickle to be funny.
For a story that would otherwise just be light-hearted, funny stuff this device adds an extra element of bravado and whimsy. It also allows Allen to once again have his characters address the audience rather directly and bluntly, something you need when the movie flies from the Upper East Side to Venice to Paris and where the set pieces include dancing French Grouchos and childish, trick-or-treating Chiquita Bananas. As usual, the cast is punctuated by a list of well known names portraying neurotic New Yorkers, set at his usual screwball tempo.
Goldie Hawn, obviously continuing to work on her First Wives Club persona with an added sense of restraint that manages only to add to her character, here plays the continuing role of Allen’s former lover but with more substance and vigor than has been since perhaps his Manhattan trilogy. Whilst still demonstrating an unnerving bond for her former husband Joe (Allen), Steffi (Hawn) lives and presides over a large household with her newest husband Bob (Alan Alda). Established as the “guilty liberal democrat”, Steffi campaigns for prison reforms under the auspice of “give them an opportunity to participate in decorating their own cells!”
Steffi and Bob’s collective brood include the narrator DJ (Natasha Lyonne) who becomes instantly infatuated with every attractive intellectual she encounters; the family’s black sheep Scott (Lukas Haas), who has inexplicably become a conservative fighting for his right to bare arms; Skylar (Barrymore), the debutante dreaming of her white; and Lane and Laura (Gabby Hoffman and Natalie Portman) to whom the camera seems to be drawn to.
In the way of an actual plot, the most successful is that of the engagement between Skylar and Holden (Norton, who seems to portray the medicated version of Catcher in The Rye), starting with the purchasing of the ring and encompassing her swallowing of it, hospital visit to recover it and the inclusion of Tim Roth as an ex-con who seems intent on unravelling everything that developed. Unfortunately, Joe’s jaunt with the unhappily married and vivacious Von (Julia Roberts) does not work anywhere as well. Again we have Allen portraying an older love sick man but here there is no urgency or passion involved in the story, especially with the addition of music. Allen seems terrified to raise his voice above little more than a whisper or even look up at the camera whilst Von seems rather uninterested for a woman who is supposedly having her wildest dreams fulfilled. Not even the lavish settings of Venis and Paris can make this subplot feel as full and complete as the primary story.
Regardless, the piece will always be remembered for its high notes such as the dance beside the Seine between Steffi and Joe, which wonderfully demonstrates Allen’s views on romance, or the mortuary scene which establishes a playful view of death Allen has rarely shared in his other works.
For all the elements that, both new and old that do not work and all those that do, this is a quintessential Allen piece that has managed to age in a way that few of his most recent works ever will. For a director that continually seems to be losing his touch on social issues, this timeless application of his techniques will always be something to cherish and have relevance.