Good lines and innovative acting make the movie worth seeing, but neither can erase the empty nastiness of table talk at Elaine's.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

Woody Allen's Celebrity takes aim at the insidious poison of the cult of celebrity that infects our culture. On this subject, we're never quite sure whether he's trying to puncture his targets or whether he loves the ride. Whichever, you can bet he'll complain. The rest of us will laugh, but our laughter will have an edge.

A marvelous line in the film sums it up: "You can learn a lot about a society by who it chooses to celebrate." Instead of the heroes of yore, our society now chooses to celebrate people who belong in the labored index of the Guinness Book of World Records--like the man in this movie who makes ceramic Jesus dolls with wounds that bleed, or the overachieving obese teenage acrobat.

Sven Nykvist's sharp camera catches the recognizables, the hopefuls, and the hangers-on in the New York night scene of dance clubs, gallery openings, fashion shows, and literary cocktail parties. We see Melanie Griffith being fawned over for filming a scene that requires only that she walk across a street. We watch Leonardo DiCaprio indulging his appetite for food, drink, sex, and the restlessness that means he won't have to face who he isn't. Attached to their backs by the lifeline of flattery are the leeches.

In this unpleasant atmosphere, Allen plants his story. Celebrity journalist Lee Simon (Kenneth Branagh) asks his wife Robin (Judy Davis) for a divorce. He becomes a fame junkie in pursuit of anyone who can help him; she becomes a reluctant participant in the same game. Plain Robin becomes made-over Robin-television celebrity. They are swimming in a sea of pretenders.

It's great fun to watch Kenneth Branagh's uncanny ability to turn himself into Woody Allen. In the manner of the master, he has learned to mutter and whine--nonstop background noise for the rest of the action. The problem: when we watch Woody Allen mumbling and bumbling his way through a leading role, we carry the indelible image of his successful, if eccentric, reality. There is no such aura around the hapless writer, Lee Simon. Mr. Branagh is forced to play a loser with the result that we in the audience are thinking, "Poor Lee." Nobody ever thinks, "Poor Woody."

Judy Davis is terrific at conveying the tortures of insecurity. Just watch her worrying about running into ticks at the convent when she's considering becoming a nun, and watch the nuns when television's celebrity priest pays a visit. Joe Mantegna's Tony Gardella is the sole spot of sanity as the suitor who offers Judy Davis's Robin a safe haven. Bebe Neuwirth has fun as a worldly-wise hooker, and Winona Ryder is fine as a prickly waitress who hasn't decided who she wants to be.

Good lines and innovative acting make the movie worth seeing, but neither can erase the empty nastiness of table talk at Elaine's. "I've become the kind of woman I've always hated," Robin moans, "and I'm happy." That's the problem.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 498
Studio : Miramax
Rating : R
Running time: 1h54m

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