The movie musical suffered a sputtered and slow death, starting in the 1960’s. There were flashes of resurgence in the 1970’s, 1980’s and in the 2000’s, though despite singular examples of successes (Grease, Fame, Chicago, Moulin Rouge!) more often, than not, any attempts to revitalize the musical genre has fallen flat. Woody Allen, game to try something different, directed 1996’s Everyone Says I Love You an unusual, though somewhat entertaining entry into his resume.
The film relies a bit on a gimmick: Allen has assembled a group of performers — none known for being particularly tuneful. There are possibly two reasons for the director’s decision to use nonsinging talent: Firstly, there is an earnestness and sincerity in the performances, and they are, for the most part, quite endearing because of the amateur quality of the musical numbers; secondly, since the musical genre is pretty much done, very few of our contemporary talents boast the triple threat talents of singing, dancing and acting — examples of Bette Midler, Liza Minnelli or Barbra Streisand notwithstanding, the kind of stars like Fred Astaire, Judy Garland or Gene Kelly doesn’t exist anymore. The lack of musical stars doesn’t hurt Allen’s film — in fact, it helps. He and his cast perform the film with straight-faced sincerity, and though the musical numbers are humorous in their antiquated style and sincerity, there is a refreshing lack of irony in them.
In a film with a concept like this one, the plot could’ve suffered, so it’s a credit to Allen that he’s crafted a clever and thoughtful story. Allen stars as Joe, his now-patented nebbish schlub who is terribly unlucky with love. He is still very close to his exwife, Steffi (Goldie Hawn), a society matron do-gooder, married for years to a fellow New York liberal, Bob (Alan Alda). Their daughter, Skylar (Drew Barrymore) is engaged to Holden (Edward Norton), though things turn upside when one of Steffi’s chaity cases, a convict, Charles (Tim Roth) enters the picture. Joe goes to Venice for respite and runs into a lovely jogger, Von (Julia Roberts), and through some questionable tactics, involving a therapist, convinces her he is her soulmate.
Allen again assembles a gallery of characters, all attractive, delightfully neurotic and vaguely wealthy. By this point in his career, his love affair with New York City is well-documented, and the city looks positively heavenly. This sort of idealized style of film making actually lends itself well to the musical genre, which asks for a certain suspension in belief (like for example, the highly choreographed number wher Holden is singing about his love for Skylar in a jewelry shop). More memorable is the justly praised scene in Paris, where Allen and Hawn have a lovely duet together, and she literally soars above his head at the climax of the dance number — it’s a beautiful scene that is, strangely, more memorable than the movie as a whole.
The cast does well enough in the musical numbers, though most of the vocal ranges are wanly limited. Norton has a pleasing enough voice, as does Alda, though Allen, as a singer is an excellent director. Barrymore’s singing was dubbed, though one wonders just how awful she sounds, when Roberts’ feeble warble is allowed to be heard. The best of the cast is Hawn, who not only is an accomplished hoofer, but also possess a lovely voice. He doesn’t nearly use her enough, though her musical prowess does break up the consistency of the film (it’s been rumored that Allen had asked Hawn to tone down her musical proficiency, so that she wouldn’t upstage her costars).
This film, like others in the Allen canon, not only entertains the audience, but allows it to see the director’s wish fulfillment — namely, that a physically unassuming guy like Allen could bed women like Julia Roberts and Goldie Hawn. His underdog-does-well schtick doesn’t tire, though (unlike Barbra Streisand’s meeskite-does-good hang-up) because he jabs his sentimentality with an edgy tone, that doesn’t allow for either schmaltz or vinegar.
Everyone Says I Love You won’t be remembered as a great musical or a great Woody Allen film. For the film to be remembered as a great musical, there needs to be memorable and electric musical sequences — beside the on-the-clouds dance with Allen and Hawn, none of the film’s numbers are particularly stunning. The performers are amiable, but would pale in comparison with classic musical sequences like Gene Kelly’s “Singin’ in the Rain” or Judy Garland’s “Get Happy.” The movie fails to be a classic Allen film because, like most of his later films, this one suffers from having too much unadulterated Woody Allen — he needs someone to prune his great ideas. At the point when the film was being made, Allen became an institution as much as a director, and therefore, he also became deified, which would explain why it’d be difficult for someone to point out some of his creative excesses.