Why don’t they make movie musicals anymore? One answer might be the death of faith. We’ve grown too cynical as a culture to accept that an alternate universe of grace — in which unspoken desires come out as song, orchestrations come out of nowhere, and extras come out dancing — could exist within our reach. Sure, we’ll buy it in music videos (most of which are about loss of faith, anyway) but not in a film where dialogue gives way to singing with the nonchalance of a man stepping off a curb. I mean, how corny is that? It’s so much easier to believe that Will Smith is keeping a lid on extraterrestrial immigration for the government.

Just because making a movie musical in the 1990s is a perverse act, though, hasn’t stopped directors from trying. On the surface, the new-to-tape films Everyone Says I Love You and Evita could hardly be more opposed. One’s the latest precious bouquet from Woody Allen; the other is an ambitious Oscar ICBM (it missed) starring Madonna and a cast of minions, excuse me, millions. But if both movies beg our indulgence as soon as the characters open their mouths to sing, neither gives us a reason we should indulge — a.k.a. characters we care about.

At least Allen is aware that the musical has little currency these days. When the characters in Everyone Says I Love You give voice to lovely old standards, the songs are tokens of their loss. The movie is explicitly about the impossibility of sustaining romance in a modern world of divorce and psychotherapy — or, rather, the director’s modern world, which has been shrinking in its boundaries ever since Annie Hall and now appears to consist of three blocks on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Allen’s appeal has shrunk in the process; the new film is pitched too high for everyone except dogs and debutantes to hear it.

At the center of Everyone is the large, moneyed clan led by dad Alan Alda and mom Goldie Hawn. Daughter Drew Barrymore is a pressed-gloves type who ditches her attorney fiance (Edward Norton) for an ex-con (Tim Roth, doing a cartoonish Beagle Boy turn that hammers home Allen’s cluelessness about anyone outside his milieu). Allen plays Hawn’s ex-husband, who woos architect Julia Roberts by becoming the man of her dreams — literally, since his daughter (Natasha Lyonne) has eavesdropped on Roberts’ therapy sessions and passes on crucial id-bits.

Funny, hah? Old movie nut that Allen is, this bunch is clearly an update of My Man Godfrey-style screwball families. But there’s no Godfrey to puncture the class pretensions, and it doesn’t help that every single character talks like Woody Allen. Tellingly, the musical numbers are the best scenes in Everyone Says I Love You: Even Roberts’ tuneless warbling of Paul James’ Can This Be Love? is imbued with a rueful awareness of how far life falls short of our ideals that, for once, makes Allen’s chronic nostalgia-mongering seem relevant. When Hawn takes flight — again, literally — during the climactic Left Bank dance, the sense of faith renewed is all the sweeter for coming so late. Suddenly her character and the whole movie seem paradoxically real. C-

Everyone Says I Love You
  • Movie
  • 101 minutes