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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Celebrity

Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Leonardo DiCaprio
Director: Woody Allen
Rated: R
RunTime: 113 Minutes
Release Date: November 1998
Genre: Comedy

Review by AlexI
3½ stars out of 4

For most of us the life of a celebrity and its glamour is synonymous with romances, love and happiness. Woody Allen takes us behind the set to a world of movie stars, famous writers, supermodels and TV-celebrities.

Whether he has succeeded in presenting a film about the concept of celebrity is debatable though because this film throws itself in probably a dozen directions, not really leaving familiar Allen territory. Lee, a disillusioned journalist decides to abandon his shallow marriage with a neurotic school teacher Robin (Judy Davies), in pursuit for excitement and light, which is missing in his gray, monotonous life. This sudden decision leaves Robin crushed and confused, on the verge of a complete breakdown. Strange coincidences guide them both on an unknown path and their lives will never be the same.

Woody Allen is certainly a celebrity if attention from the tabloids is any judge and well qualified to write a film about wanting to be famous and being famous. He seamlessly builds a world of pretentious chatter and unctuous flattery, of TV priests, celebrity plastic surgeons and their entourages, where backstage at a tabloid talk show the hit men have agents and the skinheads have eaten all the bagels. There are only two concerns: ordinary people desperately want to gain fame and the famous ones are desperately trying to keep it. Nothing of what is shown in this film is shocking or revolutionary. Lee has mistaken fame for happiness and commercial success for fulfillment. He bitterly discovers that the lives of the famous and adored are soulless and shallow, with relationships as random and uncertain as their business deals. The world behind the stage is structured of endless flaws, limitations and illusions. Of course most of the "reevaluations" concerning the true lives of celebrities we already know. But everything is presented with such grace and realism that it is impossible to refuse. The drama is moving and realistic. The wit is often sharp and very funny with solid stabs being made at Catholic idolatry, the media, supercilious film directors and spoilt brat stars. There's a fine moment of two some, hilarious, some touching.

The film is actually two parallel stories where one is Lee's quest for happiness in the celebrities' world, and the other is Robin's life and its radical change. "Celebrity" is about much more than the couple's failed love life, although that string of dismal disappointments does give shape to the larger narrative. Beginning with his divorce from wife Robin (Judy Davis), "Celebrity" charts Simon's disaster course through his fling with a starlet (Melanie Griffith), his flirtation with a supermodel (Charlize Theron), his hotel foursome with a hot young stud (Leonardo DiCaprio), his relationship with a live-in lover (Famke Janssen), to his affair with an age-inappropriate waitress and theater hopeful (Winona Ryder). More than anything else, this is (at least to me) a story about the twists and turns of life and the power of coincidences that somehow control our destiny.

This is certainly not the best of Allen's work, but absolutely not a bad effort. Though the theme in his films is always different, there are certain "trademarks" that brand all his work: a clever story that is mostly driven by a neurotic character with deep emotional problems and of course a cast that is more spectacular than most. "Celebrity" is no exception. It is very well written, with many multidimensional characters that inhabit its world. But the most important element is that there is no catharsis, no climax. The film is simply candid fragments of different lives. It is visually compelling with brilliant black & white photography by Sven Nykvist, that uses the shadowy ambiguity to create a granular and viscous monochrome of astonishing clarity. As in most of Allen's films you'll find great actors, such as Wiona Ryder, Charlize Theron, Melanie Grifith and Leonardo Di Caprio appear in tiny, episodic parts. Though I always found that unnecessary, I have come to terms with the fact that a cast like that simply can't disappoint no matter what. And no one does. Ryder and Di Caprio have some great moments; and Davies is truly spectacular, almost repeating her role in Allen's "Husbands and Wives", portraying the classic Woody Allen female break down but then haltingly blossoms when famous TV producer Tony (Joe Mantegna) falls unreservedly in love with her. But can she cope even with this? The main character that basically carries the film on his shoulder is played by Kenneth Brannagh that looks great in any role. Here it seems as if Woody Allen's spirit has taken complete control of his body, since he acts completely as Allen himself, with a kind of neurotic sweetness that mark every moment of his screen time. Although Brannagh is an incredibly talented actor and his performance is very entertaining, I find it bizarre that Allen would hire a serious actor that could do his own interpretation of this character and instead force him to copy his work. I truly believe that Brannagh could actually do more with his c h wish to see his spirit on screen.

In a way, Allen comes to a rather stereotypical conclusion that fame is a beast and not worthy of worship, but he inserts so much more in his film that it will take more than one review to find reasons to recommend this picture.

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