This is a great, fun, lighthearted romantic comedy. It also happens to be a musical, which allows it to be more fanciful and free than a nonmusical romantic comedy.
The story revolves around a family living in — where else would Woody Allen set a movie — New York. Each member of the family falls in and/or out of love throughout the movie. That’s the plot. That’s it. Okay, I’m oversimplifying, but as with the great comedies of the first half of this century, plot is not as important as entertainment. There are some truly funny moments and some refreshingly good song-and-dance routines (notably “Makin’ Whoopee” in the hospital hallway). Only one song, a short one at that, falls flat. The rest of the numbers are entertaining and funny and very welcome after a long dry spell without any musical comedies (not counting Disney’s yearly child-oriented efforts).
The actors were cast before being told that the movie was a musical. On finding out, each member agreed to stay on and sing their own parts (except Drew Barrymore, whose nicotine-tainted voice didn’t fit her sweet, innocent character — it was her song, “I’m a dreamer,” that fell flat, probably because of the obvious dubbing). Unlike the trained, professional sound of Evita, the sound of I Love You is simple, unpolished, sincere, and humanly funny. One of the early numbers capitalizes on the unpolished talents of Edward Norton. A song breaks out in a jeweler’s shop and Norton is clearly giving his all to both his singing and his dancing, but he keeps getting in the way of the professional “backup” dancers. At one point, he has to duck and crawl away from the stomping (but well-choreographed) dancers.
Woody Allen was funny as his usual self, perhaps less neurotic as in many of his other films, but his singing scene was mediocre; he was singing too quietly. I know they could have brought out his voice in post-production, but I wonder if he instructed the sound editors to deliberately hide his voice behind the orchestra.
Lukas Haas deserves mention as the family’s black-sheep Republican, and Edward Norton is charming and likeable in the Zeppo Marx-ish, young romantic lead role. Norton pulls off a hilarious Woody Allen impression (which may or may not have been intentional) when his character ineptly asks his girlfriend to marry him. The whiny accented voice feels almost like a secret jab at an oblivious Allen, making it all the more funny.
All in all, this was one of the most entertaining movies in a long time.