For Woody Allen in Everyone Says I Love You, the heart is the key to reinvigorating the musical. Allen says he doesn’t care whether the actors in his film can sing or dance: Feeling is what counts. In theory, it’s an ideal antidote to the cold calculation of musicals such as Evita that shout down an audience instead of seducing it. In reality, an actor with a thin voice or two left feet, like Allen himself, can be off-putting. Luckily, Everyone is a burst of exhilaration that rarely touches ground.
The pin-size plot revolves around a wealthy Manhattan family. Bob (Alan Alda), a liberal attorney, and his do-gooder wife, Steffi (Goldie Hawn), preside over a brood of children and stepchildren, including DJ (Natasha Lyonne), Steffi’s boy-crazy daughter from her marriage to Joe (Allen), the author of racy novels who, says Steffi, always picks the wrong women. Joe’s latest is Von (a lovely Julia Roberts), whom he seduces with hints gamered from snooping on her shrink sessions. Bob’s son, Scott (Lukas Haas), rebels by becoming a young Republican. Older daughter Skylar (Drew Barrymore) compensates by getting engaged to a preppy lawyer, Holden (Edward Norton), until she falls for Charles (Tim Roth is a gruff delight), a paroled convict whom Steffi brings home for dinner. Everyone’s romantic life is a mess, and everyone sings about it.
It’s a shock at first to hear Norton — the psycho in Primal Fear — croon “Just You, Just Me” to the scrumptiously sexy Barrymore on the streets of New York (gorgeously shot by Carlo DiPalma). But Norton proves a charmer, especially when he buys Skylar an engagement ring at Harry Winston and kicks off a dance number, “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” that is one of the film’s pleasures.
Alda warbles Cole Porter (“Looking at You”) expertly, and Hawn is the film’s crowning glory, singing “I’m Thru With Love” on a starry Paris night before joining Allen for a dance that leaves her literally walking on air. The scene is a trick done with wires, but Allen’s warm touch transforms it into romantic sorcery. At captivating moments like this, Everyone Says I Love You proves the musical can still cut it as sublime entertainment. Woody, may the Force be with you.