It has been some time since I have paid attention to Woody Allen, so running into his 1996 musical comedy Everyone Says I Love You on cable left me wondering what else I may have been missing from the increasingly marginalized director. "I Love You" fits neatly within Allen's well established adult comedy arcs and, surprisingly enough, the classic architecture of the great MGM musicals of the last century. I have to acknowledge up-front that this film contains so many elements that I personally dislike (e.g. recent-vintage Woody Allen, Goldie Hawn, Drew Barrymore just to scratch the surface) that to consider it a great film by any measure still shocks me - and yet, it is.
In the case of Allen, maybe the definition of true genius is the ability to accumulate plaudits and accolades by the insistent greatness of his work despite the deep misgivings of his audience that his personal conduct should land him in the miscreant hall of fame rather than on any awards podium.
The construction of ESILY is vintage Allen - an omniscient look at the deep dysfunction of stereotypical Upper East Side Manhattanites whose gilded socioeconomic stature does little to immunize them against a litany of self-destructive tendencies and limousine liberal hypocrisies that are his signature.
At the heart of the film is a screwball comedy that takes full advantage of a brilliant screenplay. Although Alan Alda and Goldie Hawn show little chemistry as the husband/wife tandem that are planning a merger/marriage of their daughter to one of New York's most prominent families, the film achieves lift-off only when Hawn champions the cause of a recently released felon whom she believes has been falsely incarcerated - allowing the bleeding heart hi-jinx to really build momentum (and sing.) And of course it wouldn't be a Woody Allen film if his well-trodden neurotic New Yawker schlep-meister persona didn't make an appearance in the guise of Hawn's ex-husband, who to the envy of men everywhere becomes involved in a star-crossed (and rediculously improbable) romance with Julia Roberts - to the writer/director go the spoils I suppose.
The brilliance of the film is that instead of simply running through the screenplay by rote, Allen has the characters spontaneously and inexplicably break into skillfully choreographed "big musical" numbers that would have Gene Kelly nodding in appreciation... who knew that Edward Norton could sing or dance. The smile here is not that the numbers are so good (they are) but that they occur in hilariously discordant settings (the hospital sequence is well worth your time all by itself.) popping up frequently enough to blend away the story-line lulls - they are funny as hell and almost provoke a sympathetic end-note for Allen and his sadly neglected gem of a film. As an aside, ESILY does not shortchange on the gorgeous exteriors (New York and Paris) for which Allen is synonymous.
Without playing spoiler, my only recommendation is that you find this movie and enjoy it. It is a very unexpected pleasure.
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