Saturday, June 14, 2014

Everyone Says I Love You Movie Review

Woody Allen’s career has been a lengthy string of annual hits or misses. Part of what makes him so compelling a filmmaker is how he dives right in and commits himself even to the ones that aren’t so great, just to keep himself working and putting out new material every year. His movies have a way of changing over time – for me at least – so that The Purple Rose of Cairo seemed a lesser effort, a whimsical throwaway, when I was twenty, but when I revisited it at about thirty-one, there was greatness I had missed. Sometimes it goes the other way, as with Everyone Says I Love You, which I liked a lot more seventeen years ago than I did the other day.

This is his musical effort, his attempt to make a New York love story in the style of an old 1930s musical with song and dance production numbers, intimate love songs, and some melodrama. But almost everything about it is off, wrong in some way. It’s not quite as embarrassing as Curse of the Jade Scorpion or Hollywood Ending. No, the movie isn’t bas as much as it is kind of dull and meandering.

Edward Norton was barely-known when he was cast as Holden, the romantic lead, a schnook in love with Skylar (Drew Barrymore). She’s looking for spontaneity and great romance while Holden is more practical and grounded. “My baby just cares for me,” he sings while picking out a diamond engagement ring – something he also sings about Skylar not being interested in – at Harry Winston’s almost as if he’s expressing a dream more than a fact, because later she’ll try to run off with a recently paroled violent criminal (Tim Robbins), whose release was orchestrated by her mother Steffi (Goldie Hawn), a guilty liberal Democrat with lots of money who lives in a penthouse on the Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

All this is narrated by DJ (Natasha Lyonne), the most grounded and practical character in the film even as her preferences for men change with the seasons. Woody Allen plays her dd, but he lives in Paris. The rest of the cast includes Alan Alda as Steffi’s current husband; Natalie Portman as Laura, another of his daughters; Lukas Haas as his son (who has begun espousing conservative Republican ideology, a joke carried off much better by Alex P. Keaton ten years earlier); and Julia Roberts as Von, Allen’s love interest.

The problems are many, beginning with the musical numbers. I appreciate that Allen was going for naturalism in casting non-musical talent and I understand it’s not meant to be a full-on professionally polished Broadway production, but so much of the singing lacks basic articulation, let alone on-key melodies. All power to Norton for being such a great sport about it, but man does he look awkward and uncomfortable when he has to be involved in choreography. The love songs are mercifully short little interludes that do a nice job of expressing feelings, and the big numbers are clearly satirical in nature, especially in a big hospital scene that has all manner of invalids, burn victims, and pregnant women suddenly bopping around the halls. The conceit was probably much funnier in its conception than execution.

Even without the musical numbers, the film remains disjointed and uneven. There is so much going on that it’s impossible to get really attached to any character. Alen’s Joe tries wooing the gorgeous Von in Venice and then in Paris using deep secrets he’s gained via his daughter and a chink in the wall of Von’s therapist’s office. Love is everywhere and spread too thin as a result. We hardly get to know Laura, so how can we feel for her when her teen crush wants to ask out her sister instead?

Beyond that, the jokes tend to fall flat. Again, they are examples of things that probably sound funny in theory, but they come across like Allen was on vacation while he was supposed to be fine-tuning and possibly even while directing. The zippy one-liners Allen is known for are deflated and lackluster. This is one of the early examples of Allen casting other actors to play the neurotic nebbish that he had always played himself. This time it’s Norton, whose gentile soft features belie the perfect impression of Allen’s mannerisms and vocal patterns. But do we really need Norton to out-Woody Woody when the original version also appears in the movie? It works in Bullets Over Broadway because John Cusack isn’t playing second fiddle to anyone. A chaotic scene involving Skylar swallowing that engagement ring in a restaurant has Holden panicking and prying open her mouth to peer inside all while instructing the other diners to relax and enjoy their meals. The absurdity might have played better with more assured performances or if Allen had played it himself.

Amid all the missteps, there are things that go well. I liked the doctor telling Holden he could have gotten him that same ring at a much lower price while other hospital employees came to look on and, ignoring the ailing Skylar, are too busy congratulating Holden, not for the engagement, but more for the quality and price of the stone. It’s a particularly Jewish experience, that scene, and these are the moments where Allen’s writing and views on New York life really shine. Some experiences and modes of behavior are uniquely Jewish and Allen has lived them and absorbed them and is able to recreate them to perfection in his movies. But then there’s DJ’s large family, an ex-Nazi maid, and an elderly grandpa all occupying that penthouse in scenes that I think Allen has modeled on his own childhood, but writ wealthy and large. In Radio Days it’s a small home in Brooklyn that houses the extended family. You can’t achieve that same dynamic in a luxurious penthouse.

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