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Woody Scores Big

When the British critic John Russell Taylor called the Hollywood musical "a city built to music," he was thinking more of Fred Astaire's work than of Woody Allen's. But anyone who remembers how Allen swaddled that beautiful opening montage of Manhattan in "Rhapsody in Blue" knows that when it comes to underscoring his bittersweet romantic ideals, the somber clown inside him is often indistinguishable from the clarinetist.

Everyone Says I Love You is Allen's 26th film, one of his best and likely the closest he will ever come to making a full-blown musical. As in the halcyon days of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the tony patrons and stuffy clerks at Harry Winston's jewel salon here burst into a silky rendition of "My Baby Just Cares for Me," and everyone in a hospital ward--doctors, nurses, pregnant women, a patient mummified in bandages and a wacko in a straitjacket--suddenly erupts into a leaping, cavorting "Makin' Whoopee." Because this is Woody Allen, a filmmaker both funny and dark, even the dead get into the act. Over at the terminally fashionable Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home, on Allen's cherished Upper East Side, a recently departed grandfather leaps from his casket, summons up half a dozen playmates as gauzy and ghostly as himself and launches into one of the few tunes that make sense in the context--"Enjoy Yourself (It's Later Than You Think)."

Despite such grand nostalgic gestures, Everyone Says is not quite all-singing and all-dancing. Betwixt the production numbers and two out-of-town trips to Paris and Venice, Allen throws at the audience another of his huge, untidy, extended families--riddled with neuroses and baffled by love. Does it suffice to say that, in this tangle of yearning, Goldie Hawn's Steffi, an overfilled vessel of radical chic, used to be married to Woody's rumpled novelist, Joe Berlin, but now she's hitched to amiable lawyer Alan Alda? Need we add that poor Joe hasn't kept any relationship together since? Should we note that there are enough lovesick teenage and twenty-something half- and step-siblings (Drew Barrymore, Lukas Haas, Gaby Hoffmann and sprightly Natasha Lyonne, just for a start) banging around their glamorous Manhattan penthouse to...well, to furnish what used to be the Allen/Farrow combine?

In any event, kindly take note of the stern German maid, who insists that the Italians have always put sauce on their pasta because they are "weak," the old patriarch (Patrick Cranshaw) who has grown so dotty he still sets out for ballgames at the Polo Grounds, and the psychiatrist in the equally well-appointed "apartment" next door. In one way or another, they all advance Allen's daffy, featherweight bagful of plots.

So does the hilarious, sneering ex-convict played by Tim Roth, an outsider plunked down in the upper-middle-class gentility Allen savors (and occasionally savages) because he's become Steffi's latest pet project.

This is a musical fantasy, after all, so Woody Allen gets to sleep with Julia Roberts, and Julia Roberts gets to pretend she's an art historian visiting Italy to write a book on Tintoretto. Young Lyonne's DJ, the narrator, gets to fall in love with a Venice gondolier, a boy at JFK airport and a rap singer in just about the time it takes to say as much. Drew Barrymore gets to swallow her $8,000 engagement ring while eating dessert at Le Cirque, as the poor suitor, Edward Norton, gets to go screwball. In the movie's really big setpiece, on Christmas Eve in Paris, six dozen singers and dancers, all done up like Groucho Marx, get to knock out a drop-dead version of "Hooray for Captain Spaulding"--in French, no less.

That's just before Woody and Goldie, dressed in evening clothes, go dancing in the dark, for old times' sake, on the banks of the Seine. Defying gravity at her director's behest, the ebullient Ms. Hawn literally floats on air with Notre Dame as her backdrop, then perches magically on her partner's palm, a golden statue held entirely aloft. It's a lovely thing to watch, worthy of Donen or Minnelli.

The tune that joins the characters and holds the movie together, as if with thematic gossamer, is the Kahn-Malneck-Livington standard "I'm Through With Love." In the end, none of the strivers in Everyone Says believes the lyrics any more than the songwriters did. But Woody Allen is no Pollyanna, never has been: While spinning a glorious confection, he never neglects to remind us--and himself--that falling into (and out of) love is much easier than going the distance, or that help is always hard to find. God has done such a lousy job with human relations, Woody's furrowed Joe Berlin wonders, why hasn't anyone filed a class-action suit against Him?

Thus does Woody Allen's comic fist once more conceal itself in his velvet glove.

Everyone Says I Love You.
Written and directed by Woody Allen. With Goldie Hawn, Alan Alda, Drew Barrymore, Edward Norton, Tim Roth, Julia Roberts and Woody Allen.

 
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