Woody Allen’s romantic comedy is a tribute to Hollywood classics films of the 1930s, specifically Frank Capra’s “You Can’t take It With You,” which won the 1938 Best Picture.
This is one of Allen’s large ensemble pieces, with a stellar cast that includes himself, Julia Roberts, Goldie Hawn, Tim Roth, and the discovery of the year, Edward Norton (who the same year made a memorable impression in the horror-thriller, Primal Fear).
Sharply uneven, the film contains some witty line and funny gags, but the overall impact is that of a well-intentioned and bold but finally a mediocre effort.
The setting is of course the upper crust of Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The tale is narrated by DJ (Natasha Lyonne), who guides the viewers through the fables and foibles of a large extended family, headed by Alan Alda and Goldie Hawn.
DJ’s half sister (Drew Barrymore) is engaged to be married to a shy, mild-manner introvert (Edward Norton), but she is smitten with a more daring man, a former con (Tim Roth).
As DJ’s biological father, Woody Allen may be too old (he was 61 when the film was made) to court and have love scenes with Julia Roberts, who plays an unhappily married femme, who’s half his age, and there’s no chemistry between them.
The attempt to integrate songs, delivered by ordinary characters in mundane situations, is original but only semi-successful.
Even so, the film is warm-hearted and well shot by Italian cinematographer Carlo Di Palma. Spending a short time (running time is only 97 minutes) with this glorious cast offers undeniable pleasure, even if most of them have two or three scenes.
Joe (Woody Allen)
Von (Julia Roberts)
Steffi (Goldie awn)
Charles Ferry (Tim Roth)
Bob (Alan Alda)
Holden (Edward Norton)
DJ (Natasha Lyonne)
Scott (Lukas Haas)
Holden’s father (Donald Ogden Stiers)
Running time: 97 minutes.