Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Everyone Says I Love You

"Everyone Says I Love You" (Woody Allen, 1996) First off, the title of Woody Allen's attempted musical should read "Everyone...Says I Love You" because the meter is essential. It comes from the song that takes a large junk of time-spanning narrative from the Marx Brothers comedy "Horse Feathers." That haunting and addicting song by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby** stays in the mind a long time. And the songs Allen employs, a mix of 20's/ 30's standards ("Makin' Whoopee," "My Baby Just Cares For Me") drop the narrative to a dead stop in a way that the musicals being emulated never did.* The musical pieces feel like an interruption rather than an extension of the story, or a poetic expression of the character's thoughts, though brief attempts are made to do so. The song that works best is the first one ("Just You, Just Me") that starts without warning, out of Allen's standard white-on-black opening credits (in silence). Then Boom! We're singing...actually Edward Norton is singing in a gentle, reedy pleasant voice. Norton comes off best, genuinely attempting to "sell" the song and sentiment (and it's fun to see a joyful Norton--early in his career--galumphing out of the way of dancers, and doing a better version of the Woody Allen stammering switch-backs than the director can manage***). Everyone--save Drew Barrymore--sang their own songs, and they do pretty well, though Julia Roberts is very off-key, and Tim Roth, playing a recently paroled con, sings inconsistently sweetly. The biggest disappointment is Allen's number sung in a barely-there voice. His song is not so much plaintive, as shy and non-committal...and wrong.

The plot is as slim as anything Allen's done: a series of brief encounters with the engagement of Holden Spence (Norton) and Skylar Dandridge (Barrymore) at its hub. But Allen undercuts the effervescence of the musical format by basing the main story on the efficacy of inspired love, or love-at-first-sight. Love is an illusion he says, just like breaking into song with a full orchestra backing you up in a movie. Great. It's a bit like being inspired to song by reading The Wall Street Journal. The cast is the usual first-rate one: Alan Alda, Goldie Hawn, Lukas Haas, a young Natalie Portman and Billy Crudup, Julia Roberts, Gaby Hoffmann, and Tim Roth

Besides that opening plunge into musical-land, the charm of it all is only sporadically amusing, if warm-hearted--Allen, during instrumental portions of the songs, intercuts beautifully shot (by
Carlo Di Palma) landscapes ala Fox musicals. But, there seems a long, dry spell before further joys, and, as it does so often in Allen's films, the best is saved for last--a dance between Hawn and Allen by the river Seine, which nearly matches in grace what Astaire and Rogers achieved by mixing dance and story through the use of movie-magic--the one kind of magic Allen does believe in. Although the two are far, far less capable dancers, Allen compensates by putting Hawn on a wire-rig, and she, seemingly effortlessly, floats high into the air with a natural gracefulness, and alights to earth as if weightless. It is pulled off with such suddenness and beauty that one is caught off-guard, and stunned, like that sudden drop into song at the film's beginning. It's one of the most charming...and surreal moments in the body of Allen's work. ****

*But the elephantine musicals of the 60's and 70's--that's another story.

Groucho: Everyone says I love you
but just what they say it for I never knew
it’s just inviting trouble for the poor sucker who
says I love you

Take a pair of rabbits who
get stuck on each other and begin to woo
and pretty soon you’ll find a million more rabbits who
say I love you

When the lion gets feeling frisky and begins to roar
there’s another lion who knows just what he’s roaring for

Everything that ever grew
the goose and the gander and the gosling too
the duck upon the water when he feels that way too
says quack quack quack

Chico: Everyone says I love you
the great big mosquito when-a-he sting you
the fly when he get stuck on the fly paper too
says I love you

Every time the cow says moo
she’s a-make the bull-a very happy too
and the rooster when he holler cock-a-doodle-doodle-doo
says I love you

Christopher Columbo he write the queen of Spain a very nice a-little note
and he’s a-write I love you, babee and then he get himself a great a-big a-boat
he’s a wise-a-guy

What do you think Columbo do
when he’s a-come here in 1492?
he said to Pocahontas achi vachi vachi voo
that means you little son of a gun, I love you

Zeppo: Everyone says I love you
the cop on the corner and the burglar too
the preacher in the pulpit and the man in the pew
says I love you

Every one, no matter who
the folks over eighty and the kid of two
the captain and the sailor and the rest of the crew
says I love you

There are only eight little letters in this phrase you’ll find
but they mean a lot more than all the other words combined

Everywhere the whole world through
the king in the palace and the peasant too
the tiger in the jungle and the monk in the zoo
says I love you



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