Directed by Woody Allen
Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Judy Davis, Joe Mantegna, Winona Ryder, Famke Janssen, Charlize Theron, Melanie Griffith, Leonardo DiCaprio, Bebe Neuwirth, Michael Lerner, Hank Azaria, Gretchen Mol, Kate Burton, Allison Janney, Karen Duffy, Sam Rockwell, Andre Gregory, Heather Marni, Donald Trump.
1998 113 minutes
Rated: (for profanity, drug use, and sexual situations).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, December 5, 1998.
Woody Allen, one of the most celebrated and acclaimed modern-day directors, has, in recent years, experimented with different types of films, straying from his regular New York comedy-dramas. 1994's "Bullets Over Broadway," was a period piece set in the 1940's; 1995's "Mighty Aphrodite," was a modern day Greek interpretation; 1996's "Everyone Says I Love You," was a magical return to the musical genre; and 1997's "Deconstructing Harry," was a deliberately graphic and offensive comedy.
Woody Allen's new film, "Celebrity," is perhaps his strongest picture since 1992's "Husbands and Wives," a winning and often hilarious comedy that delves into the lives of the rich, the famous, and the struggling. The film follows its main character, Lee Simon (Kenneth Branagh), a journalist, around throughout one year, as he has interesting run-ins with some of Hollywood's most powerful celebrities, all the while searching for true love. He recently has gotten a divorce from his wife of sixteen years, Robin (Judy Davis), who was devastated to find out he had been having an affair. Many of the people he encounters include a blonde bombshell actress (Melanie Griffith), who gives him a tour of her small childhood home; a supermodel (Charlize Theron), who is multi-orgasmic and gets off on simply being touched anywhere on her body; a popular teen hunk (Leonardo DiCaprio), who trashes a hotel room and beats his girlfriend (Gretchen Mol), all the while telling her that he loves her; and a kind live-in lover (Famke Janssen). While all of these people come and go through Lee's life, the woman he seems most right for is Nola (Winona Ryder), a waitress and struggling actress, despite their age difference. Meanwhile, the unhappy Robin, to her astonishment, meets a man (Joe Mantegna) in the talk show arena whom falls in love with her and gives her her first big break in showbiz, a profession she had never expected to go into.
One of the problems that last year's "Deconstructing Harry," ran into was that it had such a large cast that everyone ultimately felt criminally wasted. I was fearing the same fate for, "Celebrity," but all of the characters are infinitely more well-handled, and the story and screenplay feel far more assured and satisfying.
One of the qualities of, "Celebrity," which is very appropriate, is the dream-like black & white cinematography that constantly reminded me of films from the 1930's and 40's. The way that the story drifts from one character vignette to the next was entertaining to watch because I was enthralled by every single one of the characters, and couldn't wait to see who Lee would meet next.
As in all of Allen's films, he has recruited a wonderful, large cast. Kenneth Branagh, obviously doing an Allen impersonation, is convincing as the central character, and Judy Davis gives a touching performance as Robin, a woman who has been so unhappy for so long that she can't really believe the happiness she feels when she meets Mantegna. Charlize Theron is, to say the least, bewitching as an uninhibited supermodel; Bebe Neuwirth, as a hooker, has a hilarious scene with Davis where she teaches her how to have oral sex with a banana; and Leonardo DiCaprio is annoying, but plays the rebellious, out-of-control teen superstar to a T. Finally, and perhaps giving the best performance is Winona Ryder, who brings so much life and spark to her scenes that I feared the film might burn up in the projector. One particular sequence set at a party where Branagh and Ryder are trying to talk amidst the various conversations around them is fabulously developed and shot.
Although set amidst the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, what, "Celebrity," is really about is the things that people desperately long for in order to be happy. Lee only wants to find love, but has several character flaws that he needs to get over first, and Robin is so used to not being appreciated that when she finally feels wanted, she doesn't know how to react to it. The final sequence of the film, in which Lee and Robin meet up at a film premiere and are able to talk rationally for the first time since their divorce, is especially powerful, and the last shot, which circles around to the opening shot, is an alternately clever and thought-provoking image that I think says quite a lot.
©1998 by Dustin Putman