Everyone Says I Love You

But Not Very Much

Robert Horton

Something in Woody Allen's latter-day style is killing his movies. Allen has developed a method with actors, documented in various published accounts, of allowing them to use their own words to convey the idea of a scene, or to improvise around his lines. You can see it, for instance, all through Manhattan Murder Mystery, where the chemistry between Allen and Diane Keaton is warm and real, but dead spots pop up with troubling frequency. For Husbands and Wives, which benefits from a kind of rough Cassavetes-like slackness, this method produces interesting results. For something like Everyone Says I Love You, it's disastrous. Jokes are lost, scenes go flat, and the different styles of the many performers never stitch together.

To be sure, Allen is trying something new here -- a musical that trades off both the high style of the traditional movie musical and a certain offhand realism. So it's okay to cast actors who can't sing, right? Why shouldn't real people occasionally burst into song in their lives? This is a potentially pretty wonderful idea, because most of us do burst into song with some regularity. (Well, some of us.) And when you see the gamely off-key Edward Norton or, especially, the Woodman himself crooning love songs, there is real charm in the moment.(Actually, Allen doesn't so much croon as mutter.) But when poor Julia Roberts, who does not have a singing voice, has to warble "All My Life" on the edge of a Venice canal, I suspect the audience is not thinking "offhand magic of the moment" but "Poor Julia Roberts."

All of which results in a deeply uneven movie. Allen has written a batch of funny bits for this story of a year in the life of a rich Upper East Side family, but bits they remain. His own attempt to pick up Roberts at a museum in Venice is a jittery tour de force that harks back to the Woody of Bananas, and Tim Roth's recently-sprung jailbird is hilariously out of place, a Tarantino refugee stumbling into a Lubitsch movie. (He confesses to socialite Drew Barrymore that he hasn't kissed anyone since Vincent "The Thumb" Delgado, back at the big house.) There are moments in Barrymore's performance when she really seems like a character out of F. Scott Fitzgerald, a good-bad girl in a shiny dress, just waiting for temptation to come along and save her. And Allen should have worked with Goldie Hawn a long time ago. She seems to goose him along in their scenes together, especially when both of them are dressed in Groucho costumes and the patter starts to fly. Suddenly Woody looks twenty years younger. And it's a tremendous relief when Hawn sings her song, walking along the Seine; at last, someone with the snap and bounce (and voice) for musical comedy.

These things are likable, and as I look back on them I grin. If the movie had spent any time with any of these characters, it might mean something. But put together, none of this seems worthy coming from one of America's leading filmmakers. Allen's last scene with Hawn, sitting by the river in Paris, is apparently meant as the movie's climax, as the two characters mumble something about how strange life is, how amazing. That is evidently the moral, and then the movie is over. This just isn't good enough, not from the man who made Manhattan. Everyone Says I Love You is an intriguing idea, impeccably produced, acted by top movie talent, based on a script that feels like an especially thin first draft. Woody Allen has the right to make the kind of movie he wants, but his admirers have the right to expect more than this.