The Very Human Pleasures of EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU

Everybody has their own subjective blind spot in pop culture; a film or actor or director one loves almost without reason. You can’t put into words why you like their work, you just do. While I can tell you why I think Steven Soderbergh makes good movies (hey, I think I have…), I can’t do the same with another one of my favorite directors, Woody Allen. My love for his work is something I cannot really explain without drawing fierce arguments from others (but if I say that Ocean’s Eleven is perfectly structured entertainment, I’m likely not going to get too many scathing comments explaining why I’m wrong). I like his dialogue. Others hate it. I think his comedies are funny and his dramas are effective. Some think his comedies are grating and his dramas are mangled Bergman knock-offs. I like Allen as a screen presence. Many are actively turned off by him on-screen, and that’s not getting into the other can of worms. I just find his movies comforting to watch, like an old security blanket. I’ve never found myself getting angry at an Allen movie. Bored, maybe, but even in his weakest works, there is always something to appreciate (September has an excellent Elaine Stritch performance, A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy is gorgeously lit by Gordon Willis). And his best and warmest works have a way of making me feel good like no other movie can. And few Allen movies have made me feel better than Everyone Says I Love You.

Let’s get this out of the way; Everyone Says I Love You is not Allen’s best movie. That is The Purple Rose of Cairo (there will be no arguments to the contrary). It may not even be my most-loved Allen movie, which is likely Radio Days. But it is close to being the Allen movie that gives me the most joy. It’s not particularly well-remembered nowadays, and if it’s brought up at all, it’s in the “good, not great” pile with Mighty Aphrodite and Manhattan Murder Mystery (sidenote: I love the latter film). But when I saw it, it just made me feel so goddamn good that I couldn’t help but be won over. I gave it five stars on Letterboxd. Objectively, it isn’t a five-star movie, but fuck objectivity and the horse it rode in on. This will not be an objective piece on the relative strengths of this film, it will be a love letter.

Sometimes, when I just begin to watch films by great directors, I need a little bit of time at the beginning to adjust to the frequencies of their films, like my brain isn’t quite cleared for takeoff (I experienced this phenomenon with David Lynch at first). But there’s no such hesitance at the beginning of this film, as it neatly lays out whether or not you will like or hate this movie. I’ve waited this long to mention that this film is a musical because leading with “Woody sings!” make it sound like a MadTV sketch. But any concerns the premise raises are immediately dispelled by the opening sequence. We don’t see Woody, but we do get a young couple, played by an endearingly clumsy Edward Norton at the beginning of his career and Drew Barrymore right around her Scream-era comeback. Norton romances Barrymore by singing the jazz standard “Just You, Just Me”, used as an instrumental in at least one other Allen movie. Eventually, passersby on the street and even mannequins in the display windows join in. Norton does his own singing in the film. So does every actor besides Barrymore, who was a bad singer even for a movie where Julia Roberts gets a vocal showcase. Many of the actors in the film are quite rough as singers, but this isn’t a detriment, but an asset. Who knows how rough your relatives would sound if they broke out into song, but they’d still be endearing to you. With more polished, studio-ready voices coming out of these characters and actors, the effect would land somewhere in the Uncanny Valley, and it would be at least moderately distracting. You can believe that Edward Norton really loves Drew Barrymore when it sounds like he made the decision to serenade her on the spot. And you believe Woody Allen’s character (more on his later) when he sings the movie’s unofficial theme song “I’m Through with Love” because his aged, thin voice gives the impression of many decades of failed love attempts. The film is blessed with a generous helping of humanity (it shares that in common with Allen’s Broadway Danny Rose), and the voices of the actors are a reason why.

The many stories that make up the film are focused on one extended family, mostly rooted in New York with one exception. Bob (Alan Alda, playing a much more Alan Alda-esque character than the smarmy prick he played to a T in Crimes and Misdemeanors) and Steffi Dandridge (Goldie Hawn) are happily married, with three kids from Bob’s previous marriage, Skylar (Barrymore), Lane (Gaby Hoffmann), Laura (Natalie Portman), and Scott (Lukas Haas), and one from Steffi’s, DJ (Natasha Lyonne, also the film’s narrator). Steffi was previously married to Joe Berlin (Woody Allen), who is still on very good terms with her and Bob. Before you can say “First world problems!”, DJ begins her narration with this; “We are not the typical kind of family you’d find in a musical comedy. For one thing, we got dough. And we live right here on Park Avenue in a big apartment–a penthouse.” So if one of your big complaints about Allen is the privileged nature of his characters, this is most likely not going to be the film that convinces you otherwise. For those left, here is a rundown of some the storylines in the film;

– In a comedic spin on the storyline at the heart of Allen’s Another Woman (what if you could hear someone’s therapy sessions through a vent?), DJ listens to the therapy sessions of a woman named Von (Julia Roberts). She decides to hook Joe up with her by telling him to pretend to share her interests and cater to her likes (she’s firmly anti-electronics, so he ditches his word processor for a typewriter).

– Scott is giving his parents grief over him suddenly becoming a Young Republican. I won’t dare spoil the punchline to this story for the people who haven’t seen the film yet.

– Holden Spence (Norton) wants to marry Skylar. He takes her out to a fancy restaurant and buys her a large dessert, hiding the engagement ring in the dessert. She gobbles the thing up, including the ring, leading to a trip to the hospital to get it out and advice from the doctor that he was overcharged for it.

– Bob’s father dies. Before you get too sad, the funeral service involves his ghost leading the crowd of mourners in a rousing rendition of “Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think)” with other ghosts, and eventually a cloud of dancing ashes.

– Holden and Skylar are briefly separated when she falls in love with Charles Ferry (Tim Roth), a convicted thug whose release was Bob and Steffi’s cause. The time in prison still has Charles worried that he will be shanked at any moment.

– DJ is involved with increasingly unlikely love interests, from a cute guy she meets in Venice to a young Billy Crudup to a gangsta rapper, who gets the film’s funniest line (and the one which got the film possibly the softest R in the history of the ratings board).

– Lane and Laura fall for the same guy, who ultimately goes for Lane, leading Laura to one of the film’s many anguished performances of “I’m Through With Love”.

Funny, right? It’s very funny. It’s as witty as you can expect from an Allen script, with a number of great one-liners and gags. Even beyond the script, for much of the film, it’s just so much fun to hang around with these characters, to the point that I didn’t want it to end. And the musical numbers are by-and-large fantastic, especially a hospital sequence where the patients and doctors dance and sing “Makin’ Whoopie”. You may be asking why I’m covering it so close to Christmas, though. Perhaps it’s because the film filled me with great spirit when I watched it. If a Christmas movie is something that makes you feel good, then this movie fits that definition. But mostly it’s because the ending has quite possibly the greatest Christmas celebration in cinematic history. After Von leaves him, Joe is in a depression, so he’s invited to go with the Dandridges on their Christmas vacation to France. While there, Bob gets sick, and Joe takes his place with Steffi at a Marx Brothers-themed Christmas party, where a group of singers dressed like Groucho Marx sing a French version of “Hooray for Captain Spaulding”. After that comes the defining scene of the film and perhaps Allen’s career. On the river Seine, Joe and Steffi give each other one last dance, and one last performance of “I’m Through With Love”. This is the only scene in the film involving wirework, used to lift Goldie Hawn into the air, as if the love that Steffi feels for Joe in that moment cannot be sustained by normal gravity. And then, one last kiss, one last show of love for each other, and they go back to their separate lives. It’s one of the most beautifully bittersweet endings in Allen’s career, and he’s done more than a few of them. Every scene of the film radiates with humanity and love for even the silliest of characters, that one especially. There are no bad guys in this movie, not even the convicted murderer. For the most part, Allen would never make a film this warm again, with his next two, Deconstructing Harry and Celebrity being among his most misanthropic (the former succeeds at that while the latter doesn’t really). Even his comedies after this point became a sourer breed, and that’s not getting into his increasing number of dramas. But, we’ll always have this, a film whose delights are rooted in a love, not tolerance, for humanity and all the crazy characters it brings along. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about? I mean, I didn’t see that Kirk Cameron movie, so maybe I’m wrong.

Various Funny Things

– The Dandridges’ German maid Freida on why she makes pasta without sauce; “It’s Bavarian pasta. It doesn’t need sauce. The Italians need sauce. The Italians were weak!”

– Joe on his plans; “I’m gonna kill myself. I should go to Paris and jump off the Eiffel Tower. I’ll be dead. In fact, if I get the Concorde, I could be dead three hours earlier, which would be perfect. Or… wait a minute. With the time change, I could be alive for six hours in New York, but dead three hours in Paris. I could get things done and I could also be dead.”