That's not all bad. Allen usually overreaches when he tries to be Ingmar Bergman -- the closer he moves from Stockholm to Tin Pan Alley, the lighter his touch. And, unfettered, he pulls off some deft comedy here. When Joe takes DJ on a vacation to Venice, she spots an American, Julia Roberts' Von, who she thinks would be perfect for him. And DJ has an edge: The mother of one of her friends in New York is a psychiatrist who has been treating Von, and, for sport, the girls have been listening in on her intimacies.
DJ tells Joe all the things he needs to know to woo Von -- from her favorite vacation spots to her G-spots. Allen turns an analysand's paranoid fantasy into a parody of how lovers know each other. Joe feels guilty about what he's doing, but he's too smitten to stop. Von is so amazed at his insight that she's smitten too. An art historian unhappily married to a self- infatuated actor, she's found her white knight in the unlikely guise of a spindly nervous wreck. The high comedy in their scenes together is that she's so gaga at his simpatico she never registers what a bumbling worrywart he is. He patters on about Tintoretto, but all this blissed-out woman hears is a humming sound. He might as well be spouting nonsense verse -- which he sort of is anyway. Roberts is lovely in the part. Delusion becomes her.
There are other bonuses in the cast. Alda is sharply funny as the patriarch Bob who can't seem to control anyone in his orbit. The key to his performance is that Bob doesn't really mind the lack of control. His daughters exasperate him; he wants to clonk his son for subscribing to National Review; his addled, live-in father (Patrick Cranshaw) thinks the Giants are still playing at the Polo Grounds; his wife, Steffi, born of money, overdoes the liberal socialite routine. In the funniest subplot, their daughter Skylar falls in love with a paroled ex-con, hilariously played by a furtive, feral Tim Roth, who was released through Steffi's bleeding-heart ministrations. But through it all Bob loves the messy family feeling of it all. It gives his life -- and the film -- a buzz.
After the hideous way in which Goldie Hawn came across in The First Wives Club -- all shrill and collagen-lipped -- she bounces back. Steffi may have all the accouterments of an Upper East Side princess, but her liberal do-gooder side is genuine. She really believes the best of everybody, even ex-cons on the make, and it's both the source of her comedy and her saving grace. Hawn isn't just doing a comic routine here; it's a full-out performance. Her scenes at the end with Allen by the Seine, or at a party where everyone dresses up as Groucho Marx, are marred by the kind of dreary you-always-made-me-laugh dialogue that the rest of the film scrupulously avoids. But Hawn brings some real feeling to the confabs anyway. It takes a rare actress to make fun of who she's playing and still make you care powerfully about her.
The movie musical, despite this film and Evita, is still pretty much a dodo. I don't think Allen has any illusions about rejuvenating the form; this maiden voyage is also a swan song. It's a song he doesn't mind: It expresses the masochistic side of him that says we can no longer get our romantic impulses from pop culture. Except, of course, his pop culture.
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