EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU (1996) *** 1/2
Q. I know that this a Woody Allen musical, his first. Isn't this unusual?
A. Unusual in that movie musicals have almost disappeared, but not surprising since the film comes from Woody.
Q. How's that ?
A. Allen ( born in 1935) is a first-rate jazz clarinetist with a passion for popular music, especially that of his youth, which includes film music and the music in films. Remember that in the many years before the advent of rock, pop songs of stage and screen came fast and furious and stayed around for a long, long time. People of Woody's generation, plus the next one, often remembered and sang an enormous repertory that went back many years, well before the aficionados' birth. For a connoisseur like Woody, the backlog is immense.
Q. Are you saying that Woody used this kind of music in his films?
A. And how! The "old" music added immeasurably to his movies, whether as a key element, nostalgia or commentary. He even had recourse to "old-style" new songs sometimes. For example, in his early film "Bananas," he used a splendid Marvin Hamlisch song, sung in Spanish and "genuinely" Latin American. Other movies used old tunes. At the 1979 Cannes Festival, the closing, out-of-competition film was "Manhattan." It opened with sensational, romantic views of New York City, to the music of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue." On a huge screen and with state-of-the art sound this was so beautiful that the audience of professionals broke into applause.
Q. I see ... and I remember now how well he used pop music in "Broadway Danny Rose," as impresario Rose tries to promote a has-been singer. Also the old tunes in "Hannah and Her Sisters" ....
A. ...and all of "Radio Days" including the sweet-singing Diane Keaton; and, and... ending with the funny-phony chorus in "Mighty Aphrodite."
Q.What's "Everyone..." like?
A. In a way, a non-plot movie. It is about a big family of wealthy (presumably WASP) Manhattanites, the kind that give little soirees where Itzhak and Navah Perlman play (wait 'til you hear what they are playing!). Steffi (Goldie Hawn, very charming) had long ago divorced writer Joe (Allen), married Bob (the ever pleasant Alan Alda). This produced parents, step-parents and miscellaneous categories of siblings. Bob and Steffi are liberal Democrats. Steffi is into causes, such as the one that takes her --chauffeur driven-- to prisons where she suggests that the inmates be given a chance to participate in the redecoration of their cells. Bob is being driven crazy because his young son Scott is on an arch-conservative political kick. (There's a funny solution to this). The family includes a dotty grandpa, almost out of the old Dad in TV's "Keeping Up Appearances." There's also an authoritarian German cook. Steffi's and Joe's daughter, DJ, in her late teens, narrates the movie. Her sister Skylar (a name out of Sonny and Cher?), played by Drew Barrymore, is engaged to Holden, played by Edward Norton, currently famous for "Primal Fear" and "The People vs.Larry Flynt." The couple open the film as they sing the title oldie in Central Park and in the streets -- the main excursion of the film into the working classes. Holden ( a literary reference?) is the scion of wealthy David Ogden Stiers (born in Peoria, none too recognizable, but then where there's an Alda there's a Stiers).
Q. Is this an all-singing movie like "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg"?
A. No. It 's cross between the late Dennis Potter's BBC series "The Singing Detective" and "Pennies from Heaven " (plus the "Pennies" film with Steve Martin) and the 1930s flicks that used any excuse to break into song and dance. There are differences though. The old songs in the Potter series used dubbed original recordings and commented on many topics. The 1930s movies used professional singers. Here the tunes are mostly about love and sung by the actual cast of non-singers. Allen had everyone warble in his/her real voice (except for Drew B. who can't sing at all).
Q. Doesn't this produce horrible sounds?
A. You'd be surprised how well just about everyone comes through, perhaps not with flying colors but pleasantly. However, contrary to what you may have heard, there are also professionals who sing and dance in imaginative, funny, hilarious, most skillful sequences. Like the personnel at Harry Winston's jewelry store; like assorted hospital patients to the tune of "Making Whoopee" ; like ghosts in a funeral home. For Halloween we get tricked and treated to a great, juvenile version of "Chiquita Banana." There's a killer sequence in Paris, a Groucho Ball where all the men and women are made up as Grouchos (Woody is perfect) and where a large group does a number, "Hooray for Captain Spaulding" from a Marx Brothers film. The performers sing it in French. It's a howl.
Q. Why in French?
A. My guess is that Woody is pay homage to the millions of French cinephiles and Groucho-ites. In France, during the several student unrests of the past, many wall graffiti stated: "I am a Marxist, of the Groucho persuasion." Q. How does Joe-Woody come into the story?
A. Early on, he visits the splendid apartment of his best friends (Hawn and Alda).He now lives in Paris, where his latest amour has dumped him. He is the same old Woody, yearning for romantic love with younger women, full of tales of woe and his usual neuroses. But instead of feeling all this as "deja vu," I found it comforting, the way I used to do for the Monty Python people, not in spite, but because of the basic sameness of program after program. I don't mention this haphazardly, since Woody and the Pythons were, for me, the main comic geniuses of the post-war period.
Q. So what happens to Joe?
A. He now wants to return to Paris and kill himself there. He even thinks of taking the Concorde to get there earlier and do it. Instead he ends up by the romantic canals of Venice with daughter DJ who has engineered in most complex and funny ways (these include a peephole in a New York wall, near-fatal jogging, posing as a Tintorettto scholar) for Joe to meet and seduce fellow neurotic Julia Roberts, a married art historian. More follows, with the finale, back in Paris finding Joe and Steffi dancing by the Seine -- an enchantingly lyrical sequence where amazing special effects make Steffi glide on land and rise in the air.
Q. Are there good gags and good one-liners?
A. All you ever wanted but were afraid you wouldn't get. Woody may still play his dysfunctional persona, but as a film maker he is totally functional, hits on all cylinders, crafts beautifully his amusing details. Like the experienced gag-writer he used to be, he misses nothing, has full control over gags, topping them and topping the topper.
Q. What does this mean?
A. In showbiz parlance, the building up gags on top of previous ones. Like a two- or three-stage rocket. For instance, Holden plans to surprise Skylar with a ring placed inside a dessert. She swallows it. They rush to a doctor who, pointing to the ring in the X-rays, asks Holden how much it cost. "Eight thousand dollars." "You could have gotten it for six thousand from my brother-in-law." Or take a Sikh cabby who joins the singing ... in his own language. Or Tim Roth, as creepy an ex-con as any, who is paroled thanks to Steffi and repays her by taking-- temporarily-- Skylar away from her fiance Holden. And more...
Q. Is the film clear?
A. Clear how? What do you mean exactly?
Q. I have in mind all those movies that increasingly play guessing games with the public, often confuse it, make us spend too much time figuring out who's who, what's what and all that -- not to mention impossibilities.
Among thrillers, for instance, you never find that "clear and clean" development that Alfred Hitchcock did so well.
A. I understand. Yes, on the face of it, once you figured out which child is from which marriage, there are no outlandish question marks. If later you think back, you might become aware that there's some sketchiness in certain characters, but no more than in a "Broadway Melody" movie. It doesn't hurt, but somewhere I read that a great deal more footage had been shot, with more characters that were cut out of the final version. Even so, what comes through with utter clarity is Allen's trademark, sentimental adoration of New York, his selective view of the good that precludes the bad and the ugly. This time, Woody expands his urbanolatry with additional valentines to Paris and Venice.
Q. You rate this film three-and-a-half stars, high praise. Do you think the public and the critics will agree?
A. Devotees of Woody and of vintage music, yes. This is one of those rare fun-fun-fun, pack up your troubles in the old kit bag and smile, smile, smile movies that I'd like to see again, and soon. Allen has chosen his songs very cleverly among good ones by first-rate tunesmiths-- but then he selected mostly items that are less familiar than the golden chestnuts. If you know them, there's the pleasant shock of recognition. If you don't, there's the pleasure of discovery. But for people who, for reasons of culture or age are indifferent to such super-oldies, it could be a different story.
Q. How do you think the film will be received abroad?
A. I really can't guess. In Europe Woody Allen is an icon, a film deity. I'm glad he is yet I have always been puzzled, since he uses the American vernacular in ways not always translatable. Not to mention his New York brand of Jewish humor and other ethnic humors -- of which, by the way, there's little in "Everyone..." Now when all is said and done, it's the movie's music that is its backbone -- and while there are many connoisseurs of jazz abroad, I can't tell how many Tin Pan Alley or Broadway specialists exist there.
Q. So the film might not get fully appreciated?
A. Again, I can't tell. But look at what happened a few years ago at Cannes to the wonderful Terence Davies picture "The Long Day Closes," about the gray life of postwar British working classes whose escapism was in (mostly American) movies and popular songs. Many Europeans just didn't get it. The songs meant nothing to them.
Still, even those viewers of "Everyone" who are outside this nostalgia loop ought to appreciate the superior production values (sets, photography, orchestrations, etc.) to which Woody's usual, superb collaborators have imparted smooth, Allenian sights and sounds.