Saturday, November 21, 2009

Film Review: Everyone Says I Love You

"Everyone Says I Love You" *** (out of ****)

If you read this blog regularly you know through out the month I have paid special attention to the movie musical. When I think of the great musicals I tend to think of the ones made in the 1930s and 40s which starred Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers or Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler. But I haven't paid any attention to more modern musicals. I've been a big fan of some; "Moulin Rouge!" (2001) and "Chicago" (2002), which I have reviewed. And I look forward to Rob Marshall's upcoming "Nine" (2009). But the "problem" with these more modern musicals is a lot of the charm of old Hollywood is missing. These movies are technically well made but sometimes jarring with the rapid edits and MTV dance sequences. It feels like too much emphasis is placed on the budget and not enough on the story, acting and songs. But Woody Allen's "Everyone Says I Love You" (1996) has a lot of old-fashion charm. For that mainly it works.

I remember when this film was first released. It was the second time I went to see a Woody Allen film in the theatre (the first time was "Mighty Aphrodite" (1995), I was just becoming a fan). I had somewhat stumbled across it. I had no idea it even existed. I remember hearing about it on "Siskel & Ebert" in their special "Note to the Oscars", where Ebert felt the film should win some nominations. In his written review he declared it Woody Allen's best film. Though some years later when "Match Point" (2005) was released Ebert said that film ranked among Allen's best film but left "Everyone Says I Love You" off the list. Has his feelings changed? Siskel on the other hand didn't like the movie to Ebert's surprise and disgust.

When "Everyone Says I Love You" was released it was a bit ahead of the curb. Musicals had fallen out of fashion. Though "Evita" (1996) was in release, and the much bigger money maker, musicals were a "dead" genre. And because it was a Woody Allen film, a large part of the audience was going to stay away because of their personal feelings towards him. And honestly, who would expect a musical from Allen? But, after watching this film you have to admit the old master pulls it off. He loves old Hollywood and is familiar with these movies. Because of that he knew exactly what the standard to reach should be. Someone with less film knowledge might have a more difficult time.

"Everyone Says I Love You" though doesn't try to be a "dated" musical, it's not a period piece. It takes place in contemporary times and that gives it a certain edge. Match the musical formula with Woody Allen's humor and you've got something. The movie plays like a typical Allen comedy. It is a love letter to the movies and New York. We are dealing with a wealthy, upper East side Manhattan, liberal family. Many of them are neurotic and searching for love. There are plenty of wise-cracks (provided by Allen himself) and amusing life observations. The difference though it is all done to music. And Allen doesn't waste his time with a modern score, he knows better than that. Instead he gives us classic songs from the 20s and 30s including "Just You, Just Me", "My Baby Just Cares For Me", "Makin' Whoopee", "If I Had You", "Looking At You" and the song that almost becomes the movie's theme, "I'm Through With You", which nearly every character sings at least a verse of.

Allen plays Joe Berlin, a former New Yorker now living in Paris. I guess you can call him an American in Paris. He is a writer who has just gotten dumped (yet again) by his French girlfriend. For support to heads back to New York to his ex-wife, Steffi (Goldie Hawn) who has since re-married to Bob (Alan Alda) but they all get along (only in the movies right?). Joe and Steffi had a daughter together, nicknamed "D.J." (Natasha Lyonne). And Bob had two children of his own; Skylar (Drew Barrymore) and Scott (Lukas Haas) who has become a conservative Republican to the outrage of his father. Allen's explanation for why this happened is priceless. Finally Steffi and Bob had two daughters together; Lane (Gaby Hoffmann) and Laura (Natalie Portman).

Each of these characters, except Steffi and Bob, are all searching for love. Skylar is about to get engaged to Holden Spence (Edward Norton, who almost plays a "Woody Allen" character), while Lane and Laura have both fallen for the same young boy and D.J. simply keeps bed hopping from one guy to another as Joe sights his sights on a married woman, Von (Julia Roberts).

Needless to say some of these relationships work and other don't. Hearts get broken and some repaired. Such is life. But along the way these characters become overcome with joy and break into song. Some set-piece include Holden buying an engagement ring for Skylar at Harry Winston and singing "My Baby Just Cares For Me" or a group of nurses breaking into "Makin' Whoopee" or a group of spirits giving life lessons to the living warning them "Enjoy Yourself (It's Later Than You Think)".

With these songs and set-pieces though Allen has a gimmick. No one was allowed to sing "professional". The idea was ordinary people singing in their ordinary voices. Everyone loves music and everyone love to try to sing ("American Idol") and even if they can't that doesn't stop them from trying. "Everyone Says I Love You" is not so much about the songs but rather, why we sing in the first place. When our emotions become so strong mere words cannot express them.

Of all of Allen's films I think it is worth pointing out this one gave us an unusual amount of "first glimpses" at some future stars. Edward Norton was relatively unknown. All in the same year he appeared in "The People vs Larry Flynt" (1996) and "Primal Fear" (1996). Natalie Portman had not gone on to become Queen Padma in "The Phantom Menace" (1999), Natasha Lyonne scored big in "American Pie" and Robert Knepper as Von's husband, Greg would go on to star in action movies such as "Hostage" (2005) and "Hitman" (2007). Tim Roth even turns up as Charles Ferry, a convicted felon, who has lust in his um, heart, for Skylar.

I have written about Allen before on here. Mostly for his recent titles like "Whatever Works" (2009), which I didn't like and "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" (2008) which I liked a lot. The only older title I reviewed was "Sleeper" (1973), regarded by some as Allen's funniest film. Allen is my favorite contemporary filmmaker working today and I would argue the second most influential comedy director behind Chaplin. Personally I never bought into the mainstream thinking that Allen was all washed up after the 80s with films like "Crimes & Misdemeanors" (1989) and "Hannah & Her Sisters" (1986). I felt the 90s was a very strong decade for him. I don't think "Everyone Says I Love You" is his best film or even in the same league as some of his best but he did make some films I regard as masterpieces during the decade; "Husbands & Wives" (1992), "Deconstructing Harry" (1997) and "Sweet and Lowdown" (1999).

Here Allen doesn't seem at the top of his game. The film feels like a lark, a light and pleasant diversion. But even I can't deny some truly magical movie moments like Goldie Hawn's rendition of "I'm Through With Love" and her dance with Allen. Just like Hawn the viewer is swept off their feet.

"Everyone Says I Love You" could be the Woody Allen movie for people who don't like Woody Allen. The film doesn't primarily focus on Allen and there are movie stars the public likes like Julia Roberts, Drew Barrymore and Edward Norton for them to cheer on.

In case you wondered about the movie's title, it comes from the Marx Brothers' comedy "Horse Feathers" (1932), which I included in my "Masterpiece Film Series". There is even a group of Groucho impersonators singing "Hooray for Captain Spaulding" which Groucho sings in "Animal Crackers" (1933). In fact at the start of "Whatever Works" Allen's uses Groucho singing "Hello, I Must Be Going" over the credits. Allen is a strong admirer of the Marx Brothers, Groucho in particular.