No one seeing "Everyone Says I Love You," Woody Allen's latest film, will wonder what's in it for him. What's in it for audiences is somewhat more problematical.
The director's 26th film, "Everyone" features extensive location work in Paris and Venice and allows Allen, who stars as well as writes and directs, to play lush romantic scenes with Julia Roberts and Goldie Hawn. All very nice, no doubt, but not anything viewers can take a similar amount of pleasure in.
"Everyone Says I Love You," however, is also a musical, and that is one place where Allen's pleasures and ours coincide, at least for a while. Classic American music has always been a passion of his, and here he gets to use a whole pile of charming standards like "My Baby Just Cares for Me," "What a Little Moonlight Can Do" and Cole Porter's "Looking at You" in a bright and unusual way.
Because musicals are the one Hollywood genre that never manages to sustain a comeback, Allen's venture is a welcome one and, initially at least, the genial, effervescent quality of the movie's songs and dances enables us to forgive what turns out to be lacking in the rest of the picture.
"Everyone's" opening number, with Holden (Edward Norton) serenading Skylar (Drew Barrymore) with a smooth "Just You, Just Me," establishes several of the movie's conventions. The singing is always pleasantly conversational, never showy, and the backgrounds, whether in New York, Paris or Venice, are always bright and shiny urban fantasies.
And when Holden and Skylar end up looking at rings at Harry Winston's, the movie's delight in having full-dress production numbers ("My Baby Just Cares for Me" in this case) erupt in unlikely settings is evident. Still to come is an "Enjoy Yourself (It's Later Than You Think)" put on by the recently departed in a funeral home and even a chorus of "Cuddle Up a Little Closer" sung in Hindi.
Whenever music and dance are on screen, "Everyone" is consistently diverting, but the songs and numbers are progressively less able to disguise the haphazard, slapdash quality of the script itself. Much of the film's story is half-hearted, its jokes hit or miss, and what starts out feeling genial ends up unavoidably thin.
As narrator DJ (Natasha Lyonne) promptly informs us, hers is not the kind of family usually found in musical comedy. In addition to sheltered sister Skylar, she has a neo-con brother Scott (Lukas Haas) and precocious stepsisters Lane (Gaby Hoffmann) and Laura (Natalie Portman, who sings a beguiling "I'm Through With Love").
DJ's stepdad Bob (Alan Alda)--who likes to say, "Bring my will and an eraser," when Scott gets going--is married to DJ's mom Steffi (Goldie Hawn). Liberal enough to feel guilty about being wealthy, Steffi throws herself into volunteer work, such as a quest for "open prisons" where the inmates, among other things, would be free to decorate their own cells.
Although these characters are amusing enough when introduced, Allen the writer-director abandons his people at birth (except for a subplot about what happens when a Steffi-sponsored inmate played by Tim Roth gets out of prison)--the better to concentrate on the part of the movie that involves himself.
Allen plays Joe, DJ's father and Steffi's ex-husband, a writer living in Paris who worries, in a way Allen watchers have become familiar with, about his paltry romantic life.
Visiting Venice with DJ, he sees and falls in love with the lovely but married Von (Julia Roberts). But, in the film's most unpalatable twist, because DJ has been spying on Von's therapy sessions in New York (don't ask), she knows all about the woman's secrets and is able to assist her dad in seducing this happily married victim. It's even more unpleasant than it sounds. In fact, watching this smarmy section of "Everyone" unfold, as well as a later Seine-side pas de deux with Hawn, it is difficult to resist the notion that Allen has concocted some of his recent scenarios ("Mighty Aphrodite" co-starring Mira Sorvino also comes to mind) merely to play love scenes with the most glamorous actresses he can corral. As the song goes, it's nice work if you can get it, and if you're Woody Allen, you can get it if you try.
Everyone Says I Love You, 1996. R, for one use of strong language. Sweetland Films presents a Jean Doumanian production, released by Miramax Films. Director Woody Allen. Producer Robert Greenhut. Executive producers Jean Doumanian, J.E. Beaucaire. Screenplay Woody Allen. Cinematographer Carlo DiPalma. Editor Susan E. Morse. Costumes Jeffrey Kurland. Music arranged and conducted Dick Hyman. Choreographer Graciela Daniele. Production design Santo Loquasto. Art director Tom Warren. Set decorator Elaine O'Donnell. Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes. Alan Alda as Bob. Woody Allen as Joe. Drew Barrymore as Skylar. Lukas Haas as Scott. Goldie Hawn as Steffi. Gaby Hoffman as Lane. Natasha Lyonne as DJ. Edward Norton as Holden. Natalie Portman as Laura. Julia Roberts as Von. Tim Roth as Charles Ferry. David Ogden Stiers as Holden's father.