Woody Allen's excavation of the musical genre -- not the backstage variety, which is still extant and needs no excavation, but the average-people variety. He does not take naturally to the conventions of the genre. He takes academically to them. Philosophically to them. Archaeologically to them. And the butterscotch candy wrapper in front of the camera lens (Carlo DiPalma, cinematographer) bluntly underscores how remote he is from the brightness and vibrancy of his Minnelli-Donen-Walters models. Still, there are plenty of particulars to savor in addition to the general air of waywardness and perversity. Lukas Haas has a funny part as a National Review-reading teenager and terrible embarrassment to his Left-leaning parents (Goldie Hawn, Alan Alda). Tim Roth has a funny one, too, as a lasciviously ogling, groping ex-convict, and liberal cause célèbre, for whom the aforesaid parents had lobbied to obtain an early parole. The opening number, in which the lyrics of "Just You, Just Me" are passed from Edward Norton (who, in his dialogue scenes, falls very gracefully into the familiar Allenesque rhythms) to bystanders on the New York City streets, sets a nice mood. And the closing number, a slow-footed Astaire-Rogers simulation by Allen and a gravity-defying Goldie Hawn on the banks of the Seine, allows you to take that mood out the door. (Not much beyond.) The topper, though, to the tune of "Enjoy Yourself (It's Later Than You Think)," is the dance of see-through ghosts at a funeral parlor, joined in progress by a pixie-dust animated figure formed from an urnful of sprinkled cremains. Not in the least a danse macabre. A danse, quite contrarily, sans souci. With Julia Roberts, Drew Barrymore, Natalie Portman, Gaby Hoffman, and Allen. (1996) — Duncan Shepherd
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