Sunday, 23 March 2014

Celebrity (1998)

With the rate at which he churns them out, it is no surprise that the back catalogue of Woody Allen is going to be a mix of hits and misses. Although I find more hits than some critics or moviegoers, Celebrity is not one of them, lumbered as it is with a rambling and largely dull screenplay, unlikeable characters, and an annoying Woody Allen impersonation from Kenneth Branagh.
Lee (played by Branagh) is a failed novelist turned travel writer and celebrity journalist, going through a midlife crisis and a divorce from his wife, Robin (Judy Davis), a neurotic and insecure English teacher. While a chance encounter at a plastic surgery clinic sets Robin on the path to a new life and a new career as a TV presenter, Lee sees his relationships flounder, along with his dreams of getting his screenplay filmed.

I am not of the opinion that Allen has lost it, as recent efforts like Blue Jasmine have shown that with the right premise, and some time spent constructing the script he can still more than cut it. However, Celebrity feels like he got a bunch of ideas that had been lying around, and tried to string them together in one rushed draft. For a film packed with neurotics the finished product feels lifeless. It is hard to give a damn about the characters, and their world is too insular, with nothing about them, either on the surface or in broader characteristics or situations that gives us a way in with anything to sympathise or identify with.

As any Allen aficionado knows, a film of his that does not star him will often have one character doing an impersonation of “The Woody Allen Character”, and here we have Kenneth Branagh doing his attempt. Unfortunately, while he captures the surface traits, the tics, the stuttering, the hand gestures, he never manages to get beyond that and turn Lee into a believable character.

Judy Davis does a better job of bringing Robin to life, imbuing her with some likeable vulnerability. The events that happen to her may seem improbable, but in a way, that is kind of the point, in the context of the character arc.

The film is not totally without merit, and, aside from some good quality one-liners ("What's your next project?" "Birth of a Nation, an all-black version") there is one genuinely hilarious sequence, with Lee inadvertently taking a trip to Atlantic City with a vain, violent movie star (a cameo from Leonardo di Caprio) and trying to discuss rewrites to his script with in the middle of a hooker and drugs orgy.
That alone might make be enough to make it worth watching for Woody Allen completists, but anyone else may struggle to find a reason.