Woody Allen's new film, his 26th behind the camera, is about love, New York, life, bagels, relationships and psychoanalysis. But surely that's what they're always about? Well, for the most part, yes; but until now, none of the pint-sized one's tightly scripted comedies has been specifically designed as a musical. With Everyone Says I Love You, Allen spins out another of his trademark fret-ridden fables, but here it's a story with a Busby Berkley-style tinkly-tootly edge. And just to keep things fresh and lively, he didn't even tell his starry cast they'd have to warble as well as act - - at least not until they arrived for rehearsals.
Panicked Allenites need not worry, though. All the traditional characters, awkward situations and devastating one-liners are still firmly in place. And, while the film features more than 10 songs and several carefully choreographed dance routines, Allen is careful not to call it a musical, instead dubbing it "a comedy where the characters sing and dance" - - perhaps because Julia Roberts, Lukas Haas et al can't sing to save their, or anyone else's, lives. They don't perform as finely honed harmonising instruments, but use the choruses as an extension of acting. That's Allen's excuse, anyway.
What Everyone Says I Love You does is to bash down the front door of a "typical musical comedy family" and, in true Allen style, delve deep into the troubled souls of its occupants. Norton and Barrymore (who plays Allen's daughter) star as a young, good-looking couple teetering on the edge of a broken relationship. Their future romantic bliss is threatened by the unexpected arrival of a charming psychopath (the chill-oozing Roth), who makes a play for the comely bride-to-be. Then there are Allen and Hawn's (and Alda's and Hawn's) other bewildered offspring, a bunch of unhinged adults comprising the politically dubious Haas, lovelorn teens Portman and Hoffman and the love-dabbling Lyonne - - who, for the purposes of the movie, also acts as the story's narrator.
It's the younger characters who get most of the action from the shitty end of life's stick - the one exception being Allen's accursed character, Joe, a small man with (as usual) an impossibly large and complex collection of neuroses. Joe is a writer who, recently dumped by his woman, travels from Paris to New York seeking advice, TLC and home cooking from his former wife Goldie Hawn, who is now happily ensconced with Alan Alda. Then Joe's problems deepen when his daughter drags him off to Venice: he meets, and is romantically confused by, the romantically confused Julia Roberts.
There is plenty to enjoy in Everyone Says I Love You, a movie that's at once pleasantly convoluted and very funny. As with Allen's previous movies, the cast work together tightly, and their moments of improv conjure up some memorable scenes. The dance set pieces are neatly staged - the hospital scene where patients and doctors bop around in a weird throwback to Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective is hilarious - and, while the film lacks the originality of Annie Hall or Manhattan, it bears the unmistakable Allen stamp. And the singing? Goldie Hawn scores top marks from our English jury, while Allen and Roberts join Turkey and Luxembourg on a big, fat nil points. Everybody else manages to escape with their dignity intact, though a quick glance through the credits reveals that Drew Barrymore opted to be dubbed (nuff said). Allen took a big risk making this movie, but he's come out with an absolute winner. Then again, when you're forever casting yourself as the love interest opposite gorgeous women (here Ms Roberts), does it matter to you if the film's a success? Very clever man, that Woody Allen.