Everyone Says I Love You
directed by Woody Allen
Miramax, 1996

Djuna (Natasha Lyonne) is a young woman whose family tree has more branches than a mangrove swamp.

She lives in Manhattan with her mother Steffi (Goldie Hawn), stepfather Bob (Alan Alda), stepsister Skylar (Drew Barrymore), half sisters Lane and Laura (Gaby Hoffman and Natalie Portman), half brother Scott (Lukas Haas), grandfather (Patrick Cranshaw) and Gestapo maid Gertrude (Trude Klein).

Like most Manhattan families, or most Manhattan families in Woody Allen movies, they divide their time between espousing liberal causes and breaking into torch songs, most notably the Bert Kalmar-Harry Ruby classic "Everyone Says I Love You," which was first sung by Zeppo, Chico and Groucho Marx to Thelma Todd in Horse Feathers, then whistled by Harpo -- to his horse.

Most of Allen's characters in the film Everyone Says I Love You have no more luck with the song than did Harpo, including Allen himself, who, when he's not directing I Love You is playing Djuna's biological father, Joe.

It's a fairly typical role for Allen, who divides his time between chasing shiksas, most notably Von (Julia Roberts), and debating how to commit suicide once they leave him. For all its typicalities, however, I Love You is atypical in a number of ways.

First, Joe (Allen) lives in Paris, not New York, and second, the characters break into '30s-style dance numbers at the least provocation. This makes for -- depending on your point of view -- either a very unsettling or a highly entertaining film. It also means you get none of the scathing irony of Crimes and Misdemeanors or the intricate plotting of Broadway Danny Rose.

Instead, you get production numbers which are often extended exercises in silliness.

An emergency room visit ends in an acrobatic arrangement of "Making Whoopee," complete with high-kicking wheelchair dancers and tumbling crutch walkers. Grandpa's funeral offers viewers a haunting rendition of "Enjoy Yourself (It's Later Than You Think)," performed by the corpse himself.

Between curtain calls, the performers do pretty much what you'd expect Woody Allen characters to do: they fall in love, fall out of love, fall in love with the wrong people and wrong the people they fall in love with.

No one does this better than Joe, whose daughter Djuna has been eavesdropping on Von's psychoanalyst sessions, or more often than Skylar, who not only manages to swallow her engagement ring, but later breaks up with her fiance (Ed Norton) to date the convicted murderer (Tim Roth) her mother has gotten paroled.

Not everything in I Love You, however, works as well as it should.

Djuna's voice-over narration -- the only way Allen can tie all his loose threads together -- is more reminiscent of bad sitcoms than good '30s musicals, and Barrymore is a tough call as Skylar: It's hard to tell if she's right on target as a superficial character, or just plain superficial.

Moreover, some of the production numbers don't work -- "Hooray for Captain Spaulding," sung in French and danced by Groucho impersonators, is original, but hardly noteworthy -- and the last-minute introduction into the plot of a Marx Brothers tribute in Paris on Christmas Eve is more than a bit contrived.

On the whole, however, Everyone Says I Love You is a comfortable film. Its stars, especially Alda and Hawn, seem to be having a good time, and Allen the writer hits home with an occasional zinger, such as Skylar's response to the convict's first attempts at flirtation: "Very interesting," she says. "I've never been kissed by a sociopath before."

If that doesn't get you laughing, something else will. There's plenty to go around.

[ by Miles O'Dometer ]

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