Everyone Says I Love You feels like Allen’s earlier film Radio Days (1987). It also feels something like Paris, je t’aime (2006). Each of those films really tells a bunch of smaller stories with a bunch of characters that are connected by one idea. In the case of this film and Paris, je t’aime, it’s love, or something like it.
DJ (Natasha Lyonne) introduces us to her family and the world of the film. Her family is wealthy and expansive. Her father Joe (Woody Allen) is separated from her mother and lives in Paris. Her mother Steffi (Goldie Hawn) lives with her new husband in New York. Her husband Bob (Alan Alda) is great friends with Joe, and everyone basically gets along more or less.
I had to look up those characters’ names on IMDB because I forgot them all already. There are a lot of characters, and I’ll start referring to them by the actors’ names.
So DJ’s sister is Drew Barrymore, and she’s dating Edward Norton. They seem like a nice wealthy couple with a bright future and a lot of money. Barrymore, it turns out, has a dream of a white knight coming in and fixing everything in her life, similar to Linda in The Mighty Aphrodite (1995).
DJ scoffs at her sister’s notion of love, instead taking pride in romantic pessimism, but that quickly washes away as she becomes enraptured with various flings throughout the film. There’s probably something in this movie about how love makes no sense.
Barrymore and Norton get engaged, and everything seems great, but then she briefly falls for a released convict whom her mother brings to the house because, as DJ notes, her mother is a very charitable and guilty person. It makes no sense at all that Barrymore would fall for this stereotype of a barely-reformed convict, yet she does. Just as quickly, though, she realizes the flaws of her plan and returns to Norton who’s waiting with open arms.
DJ falls for a man in Venice, while she’s there visiting her father, and she announces that they’re getting married. Upon returning home she admits she wasn’t thinking clearly, and she quickly meets another man who appeals to her.
Joe (again, played by Woody Allen) is searching for love in Europe, and he’s somewhat surprisingly, on great terms with his ex-wife and her new husband. In Venice, Joe runs into a beautiful woman played by Julia Roberts. It just so happens that DJ, through a friend’s mother, as overheard Roberts’ therapy sessions, so she uses her intel to help her father seduce Roberts. It works, shocking even Joe who can’t believe his luck.
Eventually Roberts breaks it off, and it’s never revealed that Joe had a spy working for him. In this case love was completely fabricated, like a magic trick.
What else happens? Natalie Portman and her friend fall for the same guy, and the guy chooses her friend. That’s about it. Oh and the grandfather passes away, but his ghost returns to perform a song and dance about enjoying yourself while you’re alive.
The whole thing is a musical, I forgot to mention that. Musicals inherently glorify things, at least from my experience. And here it’s a style that Allen can easily blend into. His characters are cheerful and eager to break into a song about how in love they are.
They also break repeatedly into song about how they will never love again. The characters fluctuate back and forth with such brief conviction. Everyone ends up happy, so it’s easy to see this as Allen’s ode to love, but I think Manhattan was his ode to love. And while it’s not impossible to have two odes to love, I think Everyone Says I Love You celebrates the often-flawed, tireless search for love. Everyone finds it in the end, but I think that’s more a result of ourselves accepting what we have.
We all adjust to our circumstances given enough time, and I think that’s what this film is about, on some level. “Everyone says I love you” is like saying “everyone breathes” or “everyone sets their alarms at night.” It’s a ritual, a commonality, something that unites people.
But saying “I love you” is something people can say when they don’t mean it or don’t realize they don’t mean it. When people search for romance and affection, they do crazy things, like lie to someone using advanced knowledge of her therapy sessions, or fall in love with a convict while he gropes you because you might feel trapped in another relationship that you hadn’t thought all the way through.
So in this film, everyone settles down. Suddenly bursting into a song is something you do when you are excited and full of pep. Most of the time we’re not full of pep, but when we feel we’re in love, we become peppy. These songs and dance routines do for love what ESPN does for sports. They celebrate the momentum shifts rather than the overall picture.
When I mentioned Manhattan earlier as an ode to love, I did so because I remember the scenes in which Woody Allen’s Isaac takes pleasure in the small and quiet moments. That extended from his two love interests to the city as a whole. In Everyone Says I Love You, there aren’t that many details about why people love each other. You’re just told they do, and you see how happy it makes them so you go with it.
Similarly, ESPN hot take experts like to shout at you about what something might mean. Interestingly enough, they spend most of their time talking about things in social media or quotes taken out of context. ESPN likes to work up its audience on speculation and immediate reaction. There should be a ESPN musical about this, actually.
And at the end of the day, or the end of the month, etc. you won’t remember what nameless ESPN commentator was saying because it doesn’t really matter. You can spend an entire day analyzing one thing about an upcoming matchup, and then that gets thrown out the window when the matchup takes place.
In Everyone Says I Love You, they spend all this time proclaiming their joy at the way things are at that moment, only for them to change the next moment. When they sing of their romantic sorrows, they’re not considering the fact that it might be part of a process or necessary growth. These characters anguish over change, but they adapt to it remarkably quickly, and at the end they’re… fine.
Everyone says they love each other, and everything kind of seems like it did at the beginning.