|Woody Allen: ¿Ídolo o Forro?|
November 20, 1998
"Celebrity" was shown as part of this year's New York Film Festival. Following are excerpts from Janet Maslin's review, which appeared in The New York Times on Sept. 25. The film opens nationwide Friday.
In "Celebrity," Woody Allen presents a world in which the VIP status of Joey Buttafuoco (seen fleetingly on a talk show) makes as much sense as anything else. He wonders whether being able to provide Knicks season tickets and hot restaurant reservations for relatives can be the highest form of breadwinning in "a culture that took a wrong turn somewhere."
Famous for trashing hotel rooms? For being in a coma? For reading the weather report on television? In the glitter-crazy world of "Celebrity," the only fate emptier than being famous for practically nothing is not being famous at all.
That's exactly what befalls the film's main character, a journalist peering into the lives of the famous with his nose pressed to the glass, when he embarks on a string of neo-Felliniesque encounters with the rogues' gallery of celebrities seen here.
Playing this role in an exceptional feat of mimicry, Kenneth Branagh assumes the corduroy mantle of Allen and takes on the full panoply of self-effacing nervous mannerisms ("Really? Great, great, 'cause I don't wanna be, uh... ") as assiduously as if he were tackling "Richard III."
Yet the film allows this character, a dolce vita hanger-on lacking anything like the Mastroianni magnetism, to violate one of the most basic rules of celebrity culture. Even at its most fatuous, fame is about being one of a kind. And Allen is the only man who can save these tics from whiny obsequiousness and, with such agile genius, make them work.
So the journalist Lee Simon is one of the filmmaker's wearier creations, in ways that deny "Celebrity" the bracing audacity of recent, better Allen films like "Deconstructing Harry" and "Everyone Says I Love You." And even with Branagh as his younger alter ego, Allen finds no way to revitalize the character's predictable worries about advancing his career and chasing beautiful women.
This film's central situation, involving the post-divorce romances of Lee and his high-strung ex-wife, Robin (Judy Davis), becomes little more than a pretext for watching fame crop up in the most peculiar places. There are a handful of fabulous caricatures in Allen's Manhattan sketchbook, but the film too easily allows these peripheral figures to outshine its central story.
Surprise: the most wildly famous figure whom Lee encounters happens also to be this film's hottest star. In a devilishly satirical sequence midway through the film, Leonardo DiCaprio (uncannily well cast before the release of "Titanic") bursts into the story while trashing a hotel room at the Stanhope and slapping around his equally hysterical moll (Gretchen Mol).
Just as the police are being summoned, Lee arrives to pitch his screenplay to the bad-boy wonder and is caught up in the frenzy.
Several other guest-star segments in "Celebrity" stand out in equally bright, witty relief. "You're going to send off those truffles to the president," Melanie Griffith's pampered movie queen instructs her staff, just before drifting into a very funny brief encounter with Lee.
Another dazzling vignette presents Charlize Theron emerging from her cocoon of clean-cut roles (as in "Devil's Advocate") to play a stunning, imperious model who takes Lee in tow. Once again, Allen shows a keenly acerbic eye for the scene he sets (downtown hip, with Isaac Mizrahi as a painter who complains about being too popular) while letting it upstage the putative center of the film.
Though "Celebrity" is filled with beautiful and famous faces, it has plenty of opportunity to bog down between star turns, and some of the episodes about the Simons are astonishingly flat. Lee's high school reunion, where he is filled with contempt for his aging classmates and myopic self-involvement, is a sequence as dismal as his quip: "Ask not for whom the bell tolls -- or more accurately, for whom the toilet flushes."
While Lee drifts among glamorous women (with Famke Janssen as a svelte book editor and bewitchingly flirty Winona Ryder as an ambitious waitress-actress), Robin fumes and tries desperate measures. She visits a religious retreat where a priest with a television show signs autographs. She goes to a plastic surgeon (Michael Lerner) who's been dubbed "the Michelangelo of Manhattan" by Newsweek.
She begins dating a television producer (Joe Mantegna) who takes her to a screening of a film he finds pretentiously shot in black and white. ("Celebrity" is, of course, also shot in black and white, enhanced by the superb clarity of Sven Nykvist's cinematography.)
Ms. Davis plays Robin in a harried, antic manner at first, then softens as she evolves into the film's most unlikely luminary. Ms. Davis also gets to deliver the film's obvious message in a single unremarkable line: "You can tell a lot about a society by who it chooses to celebrate."
But most of what you can tell from the fun-house mirrors of "Celebrity" is what you already know.
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