Everyone Says I Love You differs from most modern musicals in that it doesn’t aim to be grand in scope. It aims to be a throwback to the Technicolored, frenetic days of Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse, albeit with dialogue and characters that directly reflect the modern attitudes of its writer, director, and star, Woody Allen. There is no thunderous imagery a la Moulin Rouge! (2001), and there are no Broadway-sized numbers akin to Chicago (2002). It is small and intimate, its song and dance numbers giggling in the way they depict the average Joe belting as best they can, boogying with sweet conviction. Certainly, it is among Allen’s best, most universal films — but few are able to recall it, as it came at the end of an era that didn’t rake in as much critical and commercial acclaim as the decades preceding it.
It makes use of a superb ensemble cast, putting most of its attention onto the fictional Dandridge family, a wealthy New York based bunch liberal and free-wheeling in their beliefs. The unit is headed by Bob (Alan Alda) and Steffi (Goldie Hawn), parents in the prime of middle-age that have retained an admirable zest for life. Together, they have four kids, the angsty Scott (Lukas Haas), who has decided to become a conservative Republican, the flakey Skylar (Drew Barrymore), and a pair of preteen girls, Lane (Gaby Hoffman) and Laura (Natalie Portman). Steffi’s daughter DJ (Natasha Lyonne), the result of her previous marriage to writer Joe Berlin (Allen), narrates and co-stars.
The family is facing family drama better described as whimsical than serious as the film opens. Skylar is getting married to the earnest Holden Spence (Edward Norton), but is so easily romantically persuaded that a lasting relationship may not be a very realistic place to go. Steffi, a lifelong rich girl who has devoted her entire adult life to social work, is in the process of attempting to get convict Charles Ferry (Tim Roth) released from prison, whom she believes is serving a sentence far from the result of fairness. Wanting to find love again, Joe hooks up with the much younger Von (Julia Roberts), a woman in the grips of an unhappy marriage; Laura and Lane are interested in the same boy; and DJ won’t stop falling in love with different young men. A tidy conclusion we don’t get. But like life, Everyone Says I Love You is messy but breathtaking.
Even without the musical angle shaping its charms, the film would still be among Allen’s most agreeable works. It is a romantic comedy that sings, inhabiting every scene with characters we come to revere and with conversational interludes that rank as some of Allen’s most sagacious. The film is screwball, but not chintzily so — it carries an energy reminiscent of times during which we might have been an observer to a different family’s dynamic, totally in awe of their intricate relationships, the way in which they spoke to each other. The Dandridge clan isn’t unlike most American families (maybe a little richer), and the sunny ideology that life can be a humorous thing is very much intact here.
So the added touch of music and dance that Everyone Says I Love You provides is more than welcome, as the old cliché of characters breaking out into song actually seems fitting. Allen gets the tone we’d expect (and hope for) in the best of material like this: not too campy and not too self-serious, instead drifting along with arbitrary, feel-good shades and textures. We want to give it a bear hug, being endearing in the ways a couple hours of reminiscing with family can be. With a soundtrack that includes “Making Whoopee” and “My Baby Just Cares For Me,” the delivery by the actors, who normally aren’t associated with the musical genre, steals our hearts. We can’t get enough, as it should be with the Hollywood musical.
Everyone Says I Love You climaxes in a beautifully rendered scene in which Goldie Hawn and Woody Allen slow dance like Astaire and Rogers by the Seine. Hawn flies in the air as if she were a trapeze artist, singing wonderfully; Allen turns into a dancing partner of surprising merit. It is an unforgettable way to conclude an unforgettable film. An underrated, humble masterpiece. A