An ultra-liberal family from New York's Upper East Side swap partners and fall in and out of love - in song, and in Paris, Venice and NYC itself.
Like Christmas, birthdays and Barry Norman changing the title of his "show", there's something deeply comforting about the arrival of Woody Allen's annual movie. Some are splendid, others merely all right, but the cinematic year would be sadly deprived without something from one of America's leading auteurs. Here he's excelled himself: bolting the neurotic, fluffy fun of Manhattan Murder Mystery to the controlled sentimentality of The Purple Rose Of Cairo. The result is arguably his finest film of the 1990s.
It's a musical, an odd choice given the disastrous performances of recent attempts to re-invent what was once one of cinema's most popular and technically innovative genres; but having observed the abject failure of the likes of Absolute Beginners and Earth Girls Are Easy, Allen opts for a human scale song-and-dancefest, giving his celebrity assortment of a company (including regular Alda as well as Tim Roth, Norton and Hawn) the opportunity to burst into song with varying results ranging from Norton's Perry Comoesque warblings to Allen's "old man mumbling in the shower".
The content is the standard Allen shtick - neurotic family entangled in complex personal relationships shout and yammer at each other, usually over the dinner table while Woody himself falls hopelessly in love and makes an amusing mess of it. What differentiates it are the songs where the quavering voices of untrained singers add an almost irresistible reality and grace to what can be an occasionally overpowering and bombastic verbal style. He's not afraid to throw in a couple of production numbers either, including a masterfully choreographed hoofing outbreak in a hospital corridor and a delightful sequence in which Goldie Hawn flies over the banks of the Seine.
We could only wish that this, coupled with Woody's last couple of comedies, had convinced Woody to finally jettison his arthouse ambitions and realise that, while he's not quite as good a Bergman as Bergman, he's a better Woody Allen than anyone else.