Friday, August 14, 2015


This post is dedicated to Drew, but for more Barrymore, visit the site!

At one time or another, everyone has had the experience of feeling as though some real-life event or activity were taking place in a movie. For example (and speaking from embarrassingly personal experience): owning a convertible in Los Angeles in the early 80s made it a certainty that when Blondie’s Call Me played on the car radio, that infectiously percussive, synth-pop ditty instantly became my background music. Even a routine Slurpee run to the nearby 7-Eleven was transformed into the slick opening credits sequence of my very own 80s erotic thriller.

The desire for reality to more resemble the idealized fantasy world of the movies is, perhaps, a film fan's wish as old as cinema itself. And while there's no telling the countless headaches, heartaches, and dashed illusions to be spared were one were outfitted with some kind of built-in immunity to the seductive sway of Hollywood's Technicolor fairy tales; were such a thing even possible, I'm more than certain that a reality stripped of the belief in the possibility of the impossible would hardly qualify as anybody's idea of living, anyway.

The eternal paradox of movies has always been its ability to render the real as slightly dreamlike, while capturing the essence of the ethereal with canny verisimilitude. No other sphere of emotion seems to inspire this quality in movies as evocatively as the contemporary notion of romantic love. Especially love of the transcendent, dizzying, sweep-one-off-one's-feet variety favored by musicals. And when it comes to romance and the eloquent expression of love, can any movie genre compare with the Hollywood musical?
Woody Allen as Joe Berlin
Goldie Hawn as Steffi Dandridge
Alan Alda as Bob Dandridge
Drew Barrymore as Skylar Dandridge
Edward Norton as Holden Spence
Julia Roberts as Von Siddell
Everyone Says I Love You is Woody Allen’s first - and to date, only - musical. Chronicling a year in the life of an affluent (what else?) extended family residing in New York’s Upper East Side, Allen uses the changing seasons to metaphorically underscore this nervous musical comedy about the variable nature of romance. As characters with I-wish-I-could-believe-he’s-being-satirical names like Skylar, Djuna, and Holden navigate the choppy waters of love in picturesque Venice and Paris; Woody Allen’s familiar universe (where every city looks and feels exactly like New York) reveals itself to be a wonderland of  magic realism.  

The fantastic has always figured in Woody Allen’s particular take on reality: Humphrey Bogart was his life coach in Play it Again Sam, Marshall McLuhan materialized from behind a movie poster to silence an intellectual boor in Annie Hall, etc. But the world depicted in Everyone Says I Love You is a world swept up and in concert with the giddy elation of love and spring fever. Ordinary folk break into spontaneous song and dance; store mannequins come to life; the injured and infirm leap and turn cartwheels in a hospital; the dead cavort amongst the living; and, in my absolute favorite Woody Allen moment of all time, romance grants lovers the ability to defy the laws of gravity.
Just You, Just Me
Store mannequins put on a show for engaged couple, Holden (Norton) and Skylar (Barrymore)  

But don’t be fooled; for all its song, dance, humor, appealing performances, beautiful locations, game cast, and moments of genuine charm; Everyone Says I Love You is still, never, ever anything more than your typical Woody Allen film. Which is both its boon (I like that Allen doesn’t bend his style to fit the conventions of the genre, he literally makes them dance to his tune), and its bane (if you already don’t like Woody Allen, this film isn’t likely to turn you into a convert).   

Perhaps due to the challenge presented by shooting a full-scale musical on location with a score of some 16-plus classic songs -lushly arranged, at least four choreographed production numbers, and a cast of largely non-singers who (according to production notes) only discovered they’d signed on for a musical after having already committed to the project; Allen gave himself more latitude than usual in recycling so many of his familiar tropes:
The eccentric, broadly-drawn extended family - Radio Days, Hanna & Her Sisters
The refined character attracted to a coarser individual - Love & Death, Interiors, Crimes & Misdemeanors, Hannah & Her Sisters
The heart wants what it wants - Manhattan, A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy
Two women attracted to the same man- September, Hanna & Her Sisters
Spying on an individual’s therapy session - Another Woman
Allen’s old coot/young woman fetish - Manhattan,  Husbands & Wives
Allen’s bougie lifestyle fetish - Too many films to list

Cuddle up A Little Closer 
Playing the daughter of Woody Allen and Goldie Hawn, actress Natasha Lyonne is Djuna, the film's narrator and central romantic flibbertigibbet. Here she's serenaded by love-at-first-sight beau, Ken (Billy Crudup) who's joined in song by cabbie Robert Khakh, who sings the 1908 ditty in Hindi

When you add to the mix the fact that Allen also indulges his other catalog of obsessions: The Marx Brothers, jazz, pseudo-intellectual pretensions, and people who actually consider "poet" to be a career path; Everyone Says I Love You winds up representing a kind of  Woody Allen "best of" collection set to music. Happily for me, it manages to be the best of his lighter, funnier films.
Looking at You
Happily married couple Steffi (Hawn) and Bob (Alda) head a household overrun with five children, a grandfather, a tyrannical maid, and Steffi's romantically luckless ex-husband, Joe (Allen)

Woody Allen, a man who strikes me in interviews as someone incapable of understanding even the most elemental aspects of human behavior, does seem to understand movie musicals. Indeed, a great deal more than many directors like Rob Marshall (Nine) or Susan Stroman (The Producers), who have their roots in musical theater.

There’s something intriguingly off about the idea of a Woody Allen musical. At first glance, it seems as if the director’s trademark neurotic, over-cerebral style is an ill fit for a genre characterized by breezy lightheartedness and fantasy. But upon reflection, one realizes that Allen’s films have long taken place within a fantasy bubble. What is his hermetically sealed vision of Manhattan, populated with characters bearing little to no resemblance to actual human beings, but an update of those impossibly rich penthouse dwellers who spent all their time in tuxedos and evening gowns in those Warner Bros. musicals from the 30s?
The already built-in artificiality of Woody Allen’s world, one he’s cultivated in film after film, is a Cinderella-shoe fit for a musical, simply because one of the chief hurdles of contemporary musicals has been the increasing audience resistance to the conceit of average people spontaneously bursting into song in natural surroundings.
Woody Allen's version of Manhattan has always been a New York of his own state of mind, so there's no authentic "reality" to be shattered. With Everyone Says I Love You, Woody's artificial New York feels tailor-made for the genre-mandated artifice of the movie musical!
My Baby Just Cares for Me
 A trip to Harry Winston for an engagement ring erupts into an amusing production number

By the 1990s, the movie musical had almost become extinct due to director's inability to make the genre work. Modern audiences (who had no problem with animated characters) just found real people singing onscreen to be either comical or corny.The genius of Everyone Says I Love You is that Allen, rather than trying to ignore that fact, distract audiences from it, or try to think of clever ways to sidestep that particular hurdle; structures the entire film around exploiting it. He embraces the corniness, shares in the camps, and by doing so, celebrates the naivete of old musicals.

Jumping in with both feet, Allen instantly addresses the issue of audience discomfort by having the very first words of the film sung by a character. He even plays with the genre by citing the characters' self-awareness ("We're not the typical kind of family you'd find in a musical comedy") and consciousness of their vocalizing ("What are you singing about? You're not in love with Holden!")

But best of all, Woody finds a way to keep his fantasy on human scale. Ordinary people DO break into spontaneous song, but only in appropriately ordinary voices. Choreographed production numbers erupt around them, but the characters fail to be instantly imbued with terpsichorean gifts. Instead, they move with the ungainly grace of those overcome by emotion.
And therein lies the source of Everyone Says I Love You’s ultimate triumph of charm over Allen’s sometimes problematic world view: all the singing is just an extension of the character's emotions.
If I Had You
Skylar finds herself falling for the ill-bred charms of ex-convict Charles Ferry (Tim Roth) 
I loved musicals long before I became a dancer, but I think movie musicals dug their own grave by their over-reliance on cold spectacle and technical polish. I much prefer the wavering, unsure voices in Everyone Says I Love You, to the kind of rigid vocal perfection of a Marnie Nixon (West Side Story My Fair Lady). Likewise, the dancing here is sometimes a little ragged, but it touches my heart more than any of the impenetrably cold, gut-busting numbers in Hello, Dolly!. When it comes to musicals, I still prefer being made to feel something about the characters than merely being asked to ooh and aah over empty spectacle and technical polish.
Makin' Whoopee
Patients, orderlies, and doctors alike weigh in on the consequences of marriage

When it comes to the creative expression of emotion, I’ve always felt there to be a kind of unofficial hierarchy of intensity. If it can be verbalized, you say it; if it’s a feeling difficult to put into words, write it. Feelings too strong for the spoken and written word cry out to be sung, and that which transcends verbalization, can only be danced.
That’s why musicals are the ideal genre for depicting love and romance. It’s a natural thing for people to want to express happiness. When you’re a kid, you skip, maybe as an adult you’ll whistle or hum…but for the adult, the sex act is the only outlet we’ve afforded ourselves for unrestrained expression of amorous joy. An act so personal and subjective that the more literal its depiction, the less joyous any of it seems. 
More than any other genre, musicals are able to externally depict the internal sensations of love. 
In Everyone Says I Love You, Woody Allen takes the usual hyper emotionalism of his stock characters to the next logical step. They sing of their joy, their longing, and their anxiety. True to the Woody Allen universe, the film’s main musical theme is the 1931 pop standard, I’m Thru With Love; not a song about the rhapsodic elation of love found, but of the wistful resolve of love lost and never to be.
I'm Thru With Love
The elegant pas de deux Goldie Hawn & Woody Allen perform along the Left Bank of the Seine is beyond sublime  

I enjoy Everyone Says I Love You a great deal, some parts I even love (the Halloween sequence is delightful, and Drew Barrymore and Edward Norton make an adorable couple). But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a bit of a chore slogging through yet another one of Allen’s peculiar takes on morality and ethics. (Everyone Says I Love You was released some four years after this messy breakup with Mia Farrow, but just one month before the publication of Farrows tell-all memoir, What Falls Away.)

One of the things I’ve always hated about those sex comedies of the 60s was the degree to which lying and deception was depicted as a cute, harmless path to love. In this film, the heinously invasive subterfuge Allen’s character engages in to snag Julia Roberts (a stomach-churning pairing suggesting necrophilia more than a May/December romance) feels downright sociopathic.

However, the overall appeal of the cast, and the goodwill extended by the film’s sprightly tone and lovely score of old standards, goes a long way toward mitigating my general impatience with Allen’s self-serving moral code.
Hooray For Captain Spaulding
A Marx Brothers-themed Christmas Eve costume ball
Everyone Says I Love You was released at a time when it was widely believed only animated films could succeed as musicals. Allen's film, a more traditional musical, was released in December 1996, the same month as Alan Parker's Evita - a musical that seemed to go out of its way to try to make audiences forget it was a musical.
Enjoy Yourself (It's Later Than You Think)
Recent guests at a NY funeral home refuse to let death spoil their fun

Since a tribute to the illustrious Barrymore family occasioned this particular post, I'll reserve the focus of this section exclusively to then 20-year-old Drew Barrymore (granddaughter of John) as Skylar Dandridge. Unique in this instance not only for being the sole member of the cast to be dubbed (crippled by fear, she claimed her voice was too abysmal even for a film populated with untrained singers), but having the distinction of later conquering her fear and singing in her own voice in two (!) later films: Music & Lyrics and Lucky You, both released in 2007.

A star at the age of six with her appearance in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Drew survived a Lindsay Lohan-ish adolescent to become a popular star, director, and producer. While a likeable and winning personality on talk shows, I confess I've always credited (blamed?)  Barrymore (along with Sarah Jessica Parker, Catherine Heigl, and Matthew McConaughey) for killing the romantic comedy.
Barrymore is well within her rom-com comfort zone in Everyone Says I Love You, but in small doses her familiar giggle and demur routine comes off rather well. Her close association with Adam Sandler has made her strictly persona non grata with me, but her performance here and in the exceptional Grey Gardens (2009) reminds me that she is indeed a very talented actress. Albeit one to whom the lyric from the song, My Baby Just Cares For Me applies: "There's sometimes a doubt about her choices!" 

The "Everyone Says I Love You" number from the Marx Brothers film, Horse Feathers (1932) 

Copyright © Ken Anderson


  1. Thanks again for your keen insights.

    So ... what about Evita? I'd love to pick your brain about that one (the ONLY musical I can stomach), but since I can't, would you mind picking your own (brilliant) brain and reporting back to us? Thanks! Michael

    1. Hi Michael
      I was (am?) one of those huge "Evita" fans that saw it several times onstage, and fell in love with it when it was released.
      Timing is everything, and since(as noted above) musicals at the time were largely those animated Disney things, I was perhaps somewhat desperate for a live-action musical at the time.
      I saw it MANY times at the theater and really didn't find much fault in it.It's only in later years when i look at it, I'm so amazed at how the film is a product of its time.
      Musicals thenwere sort of "ashamed" to be musicals and afraid to go for it, as it were.
      When I look at it now, I find I still love the score, but I'm disappointed at how little it allows it self to embrace its musicality. It's practically no dance and tons of marching! I have the DVD and need to look at it again and then write about it. Maybe I've boomeranged back by now.
      Thanks again to YOU for the kind words and interest!

  2. I really enjoyed your beautifully written post, and I am in total sync with the feelings that musicals can bring out in one--I think musical films are a lost source of joy today;filmmakers seem to have lost the knack. Though I think musicals are still popular in the theater (at least in revivals), so maybe there's still something of an audience out there for them, if it can be tapped into.

    I confess, though, I'm not a Woody Allen fan, and I haven't seen many of his films. I enjoyed the early comedies, such as Sleeper, but beginning in the 80s/90s Allen focused his films on a particular NYC demographic: the well-to-do upper-class Upper East/West Siders, whose issues don't interest me. Allen's films then seemed to become a kind of consumer accessory, like the latest trend in expensive perfumes; seeing his movies indicated you belonged to a certain socio-economic class. I did see one of his later films, called, I think, The Curse of the Golden Scorpion, which was terrible; a lame attempt to re-create a 1930s-type mystery.

    I did see Drew Barrymore in an Adam Sandler film once--The Wedding Singer; and I thought she was cute and bubbly. I didn't find Sandler appealing, though.

    1. Hi GOM!
      You're awfully nice. Thank you!
      Yes, musicals seem more popular than ever on broadway, but when it comes to movies, it always feels like all those who actually had a feel for music and film (Fosse, Minnelli, even Gene Kelly...but I loathe what he did with Hello Dolly) are all gone.
      After the success of "Moulin Rouge" and "Chicago" it seemed every musical just tried to duplicate that choppy visual style. While I thought "Into the Woods" was elegant, most musicals are kind of crap shoots now. They seem more obsessed with not alienating folks who hate musicals, rather than just trying to discover a new way to bring the genre to a different era.

      As for Woody Allen, I was CRAZY about his films when i was in high school and i suspect a lot of my on again/off again feelings about him have a lot of nostalgia attached.
      My partner, however, is more in your camp. First , he finds him creepy and difficult to look at, but he's also not crazy about Allen's world-view. (He did like Blue Jasmine, but I think that's it).
      I agree that there is something distancing, if not off-putting about the NYC demographic he focuses on. I rarely see movies at theaters anymore, but back in the day, what I used to hate about going to see a Woody Allen film was that the fit your description to a T.
      It's like here in LA...people who shop at Whole Foods actually behave as if that consumer detail means something about them, status wise. that's what I recall about the Allen crowd...they were like satires of the moviegoers in Allen films!.
      (When Allen's characters speak about catching the new Kurosawa film, on wax enthusiastically about the Marx Brothers...I confess, my fingers start to reach for the Fast Forward button.)

      There was a time when just the sight of Barrymore set my teeth on edge, and I used to think it was a bad joke that (given her participation in so many toxic waste Adam Sandler movies) that she was on TCM talking about why movies mattered.
      But I saw her in "grey Gardens" and my opinion about her changed forever. She was remarkable and just blew me away.
      So I'm waiting for her to outgrow those terrible "cute" roles she seems to be so fond of, and she if she might turn into a a more interesting actress when she gets older.

    2. Yes, I agree with your partner on Allen looking just a bit too creepy and weird in his films. I think it's the case of comics in general; their films are created around their personas, set in a wacky, make-believe world where they can exist without question. I think that's why Allen's earlier, 'crazy' comedies work better for me. Then he started making films in which he's in the "real world," and it was like watching Groucho Marx appear in a Douglas Sirk movie.

      I haven't seen the 2009 movie of Grey Gardens, though I loved the Maysles documentary.It often can be so hard for actors to change and grow out of roles that the public has become accustomed to seeing them in (Judy Garland had to fight to get more adult parts). Drew seems to have been trapped in that 'girl-next-door' persona that so many filmgoers love, even today; so maybe she'll be able to break away from it (you can't stay cute forever).

    3. "Like watching Groucho Marx appear in a Douglas Sirk movie"...Ha! so perfect a description of what has always been so odd about Allen appearing in his own, latter-day films!

      And if you get a chance to check it out, I really recommend the 2009 "Grey Gardens". I, too, loved the documentary, and had so little interest in the TV movie that I didn't see it until 2014.
      Barrymore and Lange are just wonderful.

      Yes, moving away from a screen persona isn't easy. i'm still stunned at what Sally Field pulled off, and I suspect there's an actress as affecting within Drew Barrymore if she would stop working with old pals (i gotta gripe about Sandler every chance i get!).

  3. Dear Ken: Hi! I saw this film back around the year 2000 (and not since). I, like many others, have a hard time watching a Woody Allen movie today (for me it's, yes, the whole Soon-Yi thing).

    But as I read your review, in my mind I shuffled through my own memories of "Everyone. . ." and found that something curious had happened. I remembered Julia Roberts was in the film, but forgot that she had a romance with Allen's character. I remembered Goldie Hawn's wonderful dance number on the Seine, but forgot that Allen was her partner. Somehow, blissfully, Allen's appearance in his own film had been completely wiped from my mind! :)

    At any rate, as a huge musical fan, I enjoyed "Everyone" quite a bit. As you point out, I think Allen did a fine job of communicating the emotions that used to drive musicals--the sense of romantic joy making anyone think she or he could sing and dance.

    I found Barrymore enchanting. And I liked Norton in his goofy, "everyguy" persona, too. (I think he should play that role more often. I generally find him off-putting when he tries to come across as a sophisticate.)

    Inspired by your essay I also did some more thinking about why musicals don't seem to "work" for today's movie audiences. Once factor I hadn't thought of before is that, during the Hollywood Musical's golden age in the 1930s to early 1950s, people in society used to sing much more often in their everyday life: at parties, in church, etc. So maybe it didn't strike them as odd that characters on-screen would sing in a variety of situations. Today, though, it seems a lot of people think singing is something that should be done only by professionals, with vocals being sharpened to auto-tuned perfection. That strikes me as a sad loss indeed!

    1. Hi David
      So funny (and fortuitous) about your mental block regarding Allen in his own film! To say he's a problematic presence is a real understatement.

      I too liked Edward Norton a great deal in this. I know it's not fair to him either as a man or an actor, but i too think he fits the goofy every guy persona a good deal more convincingly than many of the other roles I've seen him in.

      That's an interesting theory you pose about why movie musicals don't seem to work. I remember in the 70s, movie musicals were crashing while TV variety shows were booming. Then TV variety died, and animated musicals ruled.
      Have you seen any bollywood musicals? I've seena few, and BOY do they seem to get it. They may be repetitive, but there is an unashamed sentimentality and joy the films I've seen have that many American movie musicals don't. Chasing after the young demographic, I don't know if you can tap into what musicals are all about when fearful of sentimentality, the need to appear cool, and a hyper-cynicism and self-awareness. All qualities too many modern movies have anyway , for my taste.
      It sounds as if you have a real feeling for musicals. one day you have to share what you think contemporary movie musicals are missing that you once enjoyed.
      Thank, David!

  4. Thanks so much for participating in the blogathon. I've only just got around to reading the entries now, and I must say that your post was highly worth the wait. It was superbly written and very informative. Thanks for the great write up.

    I've also just announced a new blogathon that you might be interested in participating in. The link is below with more details

    1. Hi Crystal,
      Thanks so much! I really enjoyed it and have been loving reading all the other posts. And being the Lauren bacall fan I am, I'm of course happy to participate in your forthcoming blogathon. Thanks for the invite!

  5. Hi Ken - I haven't seen this one in years, not since it first came out, but I remember it as being quite charming. As usual, you've made me want to see it again soon.

    You are so right that you're either a Woody Allen fan or you're not...I happen to be one. Most of his films, including this one, are pretty much continuations of the same movie...Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah (my favorite), Alice...but some of his occasional experiments into darker material such as Interiors, Crimes and Misdemeanors and Blue Jasmine are brilliant as well. Most of his films I only see once...but Hannah, I watch again and again and again.

    Because Allen is so obsessed with the 1930s, it's no wonder that he would make a Thirties Musical here...and that's what it is...charm, good acting, the singing and dancing organic to the plot and characters, as you have noted.

    I forgot what a great cast he assembled here...I love Natasha Lyonne and ADORE Drew Barrymore, who I know will do more great things in the future--her Little Edie in Grey Gardens was an unexpected pleasure! I am surprised to learn she was dubbed in this film. Need to see it again!

    Thanks, Ken, as always, for highlighting films that slightly are off the beaten path...with your recommendation, they are always worth a second-third-fourth!-look!

    1. Hi Chris
      Glad to hear you enjoy this movie. Woody Allen does assemble some pretty remarkable casts, adding a level of interest to films that so often tread the same water.
      I wonder why it is that the two creepiest filmmakers from the 70s (Polanski and Allen) have been the ones who have managed to retain their independent spirit of filmmaking, while so many others have either fallen by the wayside, or succumbed to the blockbuster mentality (Scorsese is still interesting, but his movies don't feel personal anymore).

      I like that Allen experiments and does movies he seems interested in. Even if his world is sometimes very tiny, he still creates some fascinating stuff now and then.

      Drew Barrymore is very likeable and clearly a talented actress, but for me her friendship/association with Adam Sandler is like having a kid with a friend who's a bad influence. He just drags her down every time they appear together (I'm one of the few that found no charm in The Wedding Singer).
      Thanks for commenting, Chris! And I'm happy if these posts sometimes bring to mind a film you haven't thought about in a while.