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Celebrity

Review by David Steinhardt

 

It would be tempting to pile on and decry what a failure of a comedy Woody Allen's new film, Celebrity, is. But what's surprising is that within the failed comedy, there was the possibility of a pretty good serious film.

Kenneth Branagh, as the film's central character, tries to be Woody Allen but ends up being neither Woody nor Branagh- which is a shame, because in his confusion, he manages to plod through some bits with great comic potential. As a journalist with aspirations for something more, he stammers (a la Woody) as he botches relationship after relationship, embarrassingly tries to promote his career as a screenwriter and fails at trying to write and sell his novel.

But it can't really be the stars fault that every potentially funny scene falls flat. As other reviewers have noted, Celebrity has a mean streak about women which isn't balanced by some other perspective. When Bebe Neuwirth chokes on a banana while giving Judy Davis a lesson in how to perform fellatio, not only are we seeing something which was done way better in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, but there's also the unnerving sense that we're observing an early rehearsal of the scene that we're in fact watching. It's truly bizarre that at this point in the old pervert’s film making career, more stars than ever are falling over themselves to work with him, while the work itself is becoming more and more embarrassing and, well, perverted.

Only Leonardo DiCaprio gives a fully realized performance as a violent, drug- addled movie brat who literally takes Branagh's character for a ride. Although Leo seems to know what he's doing when he tries to talk Kenneth into joining his orgy, it's Woody's fault that we have no idea what his motives are in doing so.

Judy Davis shares the spotlight with Branagh as his neglected ex-wife who becomes a celebrity by linking up with an excellently cast Joe Mantegna and, presumably, masters the art of fellatio to keep him. Winona Ryder is beautiful as one of Branagh's girlfriends, while Melanie Griffith is forgettable as a major movie star who inexplicably wants to fellate him. The contempt for women, expressed sexually, is palpable.

And yet (almost accidentally, it seems) we are left with a serious film about a man who thinks he's deep yet is actually a clueless idiot. His longing for a larger role in life is expressed passionately, even while it's not clear the film maker understands why his mistakes are grotesque. To have the camera dwell on Branagh's misty eyes as he pursues a woman the same day another is moving in with him, however, seems like unintended irony. The film itself seems to be telling us that he is a tragic character because of his great passion for life and women. The story, however, tells us that he's a neurotic mess who pursues gratification most when it will yield him the least.

The title of Celebrity implies that Woody believes he is making a serious statement about the folly of who we celebrate in this culture. In fact, the point is so obvious that it is trivial. He even has Joey Buttafuoco and his maimed wife make an appearance. We’re led to believe some higher purpose exists with such trash-mongering. Let me tell you all now: there is none.

 

Thanks to Gabi !

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