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CELEBRITY(director/writer: Woody Allen; cinematographer: Sven Nykvist; editor: Susan E. Morse; cast: Kenneth Branagh (Lee Simon), Judy Davis (Robin Simon), Joe Mantegna (Tony Gardella), Winona Ryder (Nola), Charlize Theron (Supermodel ), Leonardo DiCaprio (Brandon Darrow), Melanie Griffith (Nicole Oliver), Famke Janssen (Bonnie), Bebe Neuwirth (Hooker), Michael Lerner (Dr. Lupus), Gretchen Mol (Leonardo’s girlfriend), Isaac Mizrahi (painter); Runtime: 113; Miramax Films; 1998)
“Too few of the jokes worked.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Celebrity is like an amalgam of old Woody Allen material, which has always given him an opening to concentrate on being witty and ignoring such filmmaking details as editing and plot. He seems to work well in chaos and in hyper-boles. This fluff film (no pretense at Ingmar Bergman depths here) could have been funny but isn’t, except in spots. As far as being insightful about the “horses arses” who are into being celebrities without any other accomplishments to their credit, there’s not really too much to be said about celebrities that could be profound. Woody makes a stronger statement in the film’s subplot that deals with love than he does about celebrities, as he believes that meeting the right mate is mostly a matter of luck.

Kenneth Branagh in no way, shape, or form, reminds me of Woody Allen, but he plays Woody. He’s just not Woody, all he’s got down pat are Woody’s voice inflections and neurotic gestures. He plays a celebrity journalist working on a novel and on a film script, roaming the environs of NYC’s Tribeca, Elaine’s restaurant, and various Upper East Side places of high fashion. He is a loser who keeps making bad decisions about his personal and career life.

Branagh is shown via flashbacks divorcing his nervous Catholic teacher wife (Judy Davis), without explaining why, as he stutters out his inarticulate response. Branagh is a phony, using women only to get ahead in his career. We first see this as he conducts an interview profiling the life of a famous actress (Melanie Griffith) in the house she lived in as a child. He romances her in the same bedroom she slept in as a child and audaciously tries to get her interested in his screenplay while he is in her arms romantically, saying he needs a star to be in the film for him to get his screenplay backed.

Branagh is going out of his sexual mind when he meets the supermodel Charlize Theron, who shows him how she has orgasms when touched on any part of her body. She uninhibitedly dances with NBA basketball player Anthony Mason, and gives him her number in front of him. If Woody played that scene it most probably would have been funny, but with Branagh it seemed pathetically flat and unfunny.

The only scene in the film that had a bit of spice that lasted for more than 15 seconds was the Leonardo DiCaprio bit, where he’s a famous bad-boy actor who Branagh tries to pitch his screenplay to in a hotel room as he is beating up his girlfriend (Gretchen Mol) and trashing the room. All the while Branagh continues pushing his screenplay on him. They end up going to see a fight in Atlantic City, with him borrowing $6,000 from Leonardo and losing that same money at the casino craps table, then going back to the hotel to party while high on some cocaine as Branagh participates in an orgy with a groupie who tells him she writes like Chekhov while all the time pitching unsuccessfully for his screenplay.

Branagh steals Famke Janssen away from another and has the editor move in with him, as she helps him with his screenplay. But he meets again the very attractive and ambitious waitress/actress Winona Ryder whom he was supposed to date in an earlier scene, and dumps Famke on the day she alters her entire life to move in with him. Meanwhile his ex-wife finds Mr. Perfect, a television producer, Joe Mantegna; she marries him, gets to be a popular TV host of a celebrity interview show, and has one hilarious scene where she goes privately to see a hooker (Bebe) guest on the celebrity TV show to learn the art of giving good head. The hooker asks her, “What she thinks about when she is giving a blow job?” and, she responds, “The Crucifixion.” A banana is used as a prop for the sexual demonstration in self-improvement until the expert chokes on it, and the demonstration comes to a halt.

Another funny bit took place in the green room of Famke’s TV show as a Klansman, an ACLU attorney, some skinheads, a rabbi and a Mafia don discuss who is representing them from the William Morris Agency, but the rabbi’s biggest concern is if there are any bagels left.

The film was reel-to-reel with celebrities, as they made their cameo and disappeared. Donald Trump is buying St. Patrick’s Cathedral and tearing-it-down for a skyscraper. A producer says he is re-making Birth of a Nation with an all-black cast. Famous for being in a coma, Klaus Von Bulow’s wife is wheeled in to appear on the celebrity TV show. Celebrities give trite comments to banal questions such as, “What do you think of the rain?” Answer. “It’s really something!”

The beautifully shot b/w film ends as it begins, as a plane passes overhead with the skywriting word “HELP!” Unfortunately this was, for the most part, a lifeless and flat film. None of the main characters were cast right, especially, Branagh. There’s no way, no matter how exact his mimicry of Woody is, that he can be thought of as a nebbish NYC Jew. What was needed was some originality and some energy into making the characters appear absurdly funny and not carbon copy imitations of how celebrities are. Too few of the jokes worked.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”