Everyone Says I Love You

Bad Singers Hamper Allen's New Musical

John Hartl

At the close of Woody Allen's first full-fledged musical, we're informed that the filmmakers had to make it a musical comedy "or no one will believe it."

What no one will believe is the wispy nature of the characters, who are among the thinnest Allen has ever created. The script is filled with cardboard people who launch into tired liberal-vs.-conservative debates and hackneyed discussions of romantic masochism, theology, friendship and marriage, and they all seem to be mouthpieces for Allen.

The actors occasionally flesh out these ideas with enough force to create the appearance of three-dimensional people. Goldie Hawn is especially warm and funny as Allen's ex-wife: a wealthy, guilty liberal now married to Alan Alda but still attracted to her former husband.

Tim Roth is briefly hilarious as an unreformable criminal who manages to crash a party to which he's actually been invited ("He was in a prison, not a finishing school," explains Hawn). Edward Norton is so charismatic he gets away with his silly role as a happy-go-lucky boyfriend who will put up with any amount of nonsense from his wayward fiancee (Drew Barrymore).

But if these characters didn't sing and dance, there would be no movie. Allen hired his actors without telling them they would be appearing in a musical, and the big numbers look like they've been created to fill the yawning gaps between the speeches. Fortunately, they almost make up for the lack of substance.

After the bombast of Evita, Allen's approach to the songs (most of them borrowed from 1930s musicals) is disarmingly casual, and there are moments here that soar: Norton's opening number, "Just Me, Just You," and his follow-up, "My Baby Just Cares for Me"; an episode in which funeral ashes turn into ghosts who dance to "Enjoy Yourself (It's Later Than You Think)"; and a French-language version of "Hooray for Capt. Spaulding," performed by dancers wearing Groucho glasses and mustaches.

The dancing and especially the singing here are frequently not on the most professional level. Particularly tuneless are the contributions from Julia Roberts, who mangles "All My Life," and from Allen himself, who tries to talk his way through "I'm Thru With Love."

But veryone Says I Love You doesn't make the same mistakes as Peter Bogdanovich's At Long Last Love, the 1975 flop in which Burt Reynolds and Cybill Shepherd tried to sing and dance to Cole Porter's songs. Allen's musical performers aren't trying to be Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers; they're just expressing their joy, and in the case of Norton and Hawn, it's infectious.

As for that screenplay: Perhaps it's time for Allen to work with a collaborator again. He did his best work in years with Bullets Over Broadway, which he co-wrote with Douglas McGrath (writer-director of Emma), and a number of his most-admired films (Annie Hall, Sleeper, Manhattan) have involved a co-writer.

Perhaps it's also time for the 61-year-old Allen to consider retiring from the role of romantic lead in his pictures, especially when his scripts require a Mira Sorvino or a Julia Roberts to admire his character's sexual potency or a Goldie Hawn to deliver such self-congratulatory dialogue as "nobody ever made me laugh the way you do."

Bullet worked just fine without him appearing in front of the cameras. John Cusack made a splendid Woody substitute, just as Norton does here.