Allen brings misadventures to `Everyone Says I Love You'

by Jessica Peterson

Woody Allen's Everyone Says I Love You boasts the attractiveness of a novelty film. Millions will flock to the theaters just to be able to say that they have seen it, the way they did with Pulp Fiction in 1994 (and 1995 ... and then the video ... ).

But don't buy a ticket expecting a hip soundtrack, blood, drugs, sexual perversion and John Travolta. Everyone Says I Love You is a good old-fashioned musical comedy, replete with old standard tunes, corny romantic storylines and scenery from three of the most amazing cities in the world: New York, Venice and Paris.

On second thought, these films do have an awful lot in common: a director-chosen score full of classics, a huge ensemble cast, improbably connected subplots and ... Tim Roth!

What's more, Tarantino and Allen share a reputation for being eccentric, consistent in their signature styles of filmmaking and strikingly ugly. Despite this uncanny likeness, you'll find the two cinematic experiences very different.

The film begins in New York in the posh home of a modern extended family: Goldie Hawn and Alan Alda are the parents of a large brood of step-siblings from various marriages, including Lukas Haas, Gaby Hoffman and Natalie Portman. Allen is Goldie's ex-husband and the father of the young narrator, played by Natasha Lyonne. Drew Barrymore is Skylar, the oldest daughter of the family, whose engagement to Holden (Edward Norton) provides lots of opportunity for sappy love songs and dance numbers staged by Harry Winston.

The movie is a musical in the true sense of the word, just like Guys and Dolls , during which any character may burst into song in the middle of a sentence. Although Allen never musically auditioned any of the cast nor informed them that they had signed on for a singing role, some of these actors summon up some passable musical talent. Norton and Lyonne sing very well and make themselves utterly likable, and Alda and Hawn show off the results of their previous experience in musical comedy. Not so for Julia Roberts, whose role fortunately requires very little singing.

A chorus of dancers, disguised as average extras, leap into action in unlikely places such as a funeral home, a hospital ward and a Groucho Marx tribute party. Even store-window mannequins come to life to round out these musical sequences. Sometimes it all seems like a live-action Disney cartoon.

Although movies like this were at their prime about 40 years ago, the outdatedness of the project has the unexpected advantage of making you burst into laughter every time the orchestra strikes up, and an actor gets that misty look on his or her face. Once the shock passes, it's easy to settle back and enjoy the entertainment.

Between these numbers, the movie plays like a typical Allen comedy, full of neurotic, improvised dialogue and romantic misadventures.

Depending on your opinion of him and his distinctive 30-year oeuvre , Allen himself could be the weakest part of the film.

You must ask yourself, can I accept his (stuttering) acting style? Can I swallow him as a romantic leading man? Can I picture him kissing Julia Roberts?

If the answer to any of these questions is "no," don't despair yet. He does warble a little bit, and he does manage to win over both Roberts and Hawn, but he also masterminds the charm of the rest of the film.

He also brings us songs from corpses and pregnant women, and a hilarious twist in which a released felon (Roth) woos the painfully naive Skylar. It's an enjoyable ride, and Allen will win new fans to add to the old guard.

Don't anticipate a Tarantino-style pop-culture revolution, but do go and enjoy some silver-screen entertainment the way our grandparents should have had it.

This item appeared in the Arts & Entertainment section of the January 31, 1997 issue.

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