Review by Dustin Putman
3 stars out of 4
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.
Copyright © 1998 Dustin Putman