Wednesdays with Woody: Celebrity (1998)


Fitting nicely in between Sweet and Lowdown and Deconstructing Harry, Woody Allen’s Celebrity looks at the lives of a divorced couple Lee Simon (Kenneth Branagh) and his ex-wife Robin (Judy Davis).  While Lee follows fame and fortune Robin tries to get her life back on track after the breakup of the only relationship she’s ever known.

Lee is a magazine writer driven by the cult-like nature of celebrities and although he has written two novels, both panned by critics and is attempting to write a third, he is desperate to sell his screenplay to anyone who will listen…as long as they are a big star he can attach to the script. Lee’s journey is one of complete stupidity as he makes the same mistakes time after time never learning how fickle and vain he actually is and in a Peter Carey type ending he ends up right back where he began and deservedly so. He keeps finding women, cheating on them and getting screwed over on his quest to be a success.

On the other hand, Robin has had nothing but wonderful fortune. She meets television producer Tony (Joe Mantegna) who not only marries her but also makes her a television star in her own show. She is just one of the successful celebrities that Lee must now see, knowing what a failure he is.  As well as watching her get everything he ever wanted without working for it at all.

Celebrity shows the vast difference between film people and book people.  Film people are shown as crazy and undignified who are vain and self-serving willing to do anything to get what they want whereas book people seem civil and intellectualized who are valued in society due to their teachings and thoughtful words.

As usual Allen creates wonderful stereotypes of Catholics and Jews and uses hysterical women dealing with bastard men to guide to story. Just shy of two hours, and shot in black and white, Celebrity is certainly is a long complex tale.  Allen also makes fun of the frivolous nature of Hollywood and its incessant search for perfection and fame at all costs.  An industry, mind you, that has at times celebrated Allen and his work with Oscars throughout the decades of his career.

The greatest moment in Celebrity comes with watching Lee trying to sell his screenplay to Brandon Darrow (Leonardo DiCaprio). Darrow is a young successful actor who couldn’t give two hoots for Lee’s struggle. As he parties hard and does drugs, Lee keeps asking about scenes in the script to which Brandon believes all parts need to be re written.  And for the ten minutes and twenty seconds DiCaprio is on screen, he plays the role perfectly without missing a single beat. Branagh is so desperate as Lee that he tells one young actress, ‘for you, I’d be willing to catch terminal cancer’ a line that had me laughing for days.

As always, Allen has provided us with a fast paced hilarious look at his crazy characters that can’t seem to catch a breath for talking so much.  They are all neurotic freaks who are in desperate need of a shrink but watching their lives unravel on screen is the stuff I live for.  With a fabulous cast including Hank AzariaMelanie GriffithBebe NeuwirthWinona Ryder and Charlize TheronCelebrity is absolute gold from a genius who never fails to entertain his audience.

3.5 blergs





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