CELEBRITY November 3, 2016
I’m wont to think that celebrities are as “real” as you or me, just more emotionally showy. But that’s only the result of my watching of a lot of movies and seeing prima donnas disguised as everyday people on a regular basis — in reality are the lives of most of the rich and famous likely overtaken by a sheen of strict unreality that foreseeably renders them as egotists that probably aren’t as real as you or me after all.
So while it’s possible or maybe even fact that my inherent beliefs perhaps bear a hint of truth every once in a while, Woody Allen’s Celebrity doesn’t keep my same convictions. Playing like, as Roger Ebert puts it, “the loose ends and unused inspirations of other Woody Allen movies,” the film is an odd assortment of brushes with fame and other exciting meet-cutes with the entertainment industry, many of them brash enough to make Norma Desmond and her antics aplenty seem level-headed.
Celebrity’s never boring but leans toward the unorganized, its allegedly central storyline working not as an emotional tugger but as a distraction from the various vignettes that comprise the movie with such likable panache. The anchor of it all is Kenneth Branagh, who, with chintzy Allen mannerisms, plays Lee Simon, a failed novelist who turns to celebrity writing after everything in his life seems to betray him.
When we’re first introduced to the neurotic moppet, he’s profiling Nicole Oliver (Melanie Griffith), a high-class starlet in the middle of shooting a typically pretentious arthouse piece. He unethically spends the night with her, and, even worse, pitches her his idea for a screenplay that could very well fit within the caliber of her star status.
But that’s only one misguided thing our compulsive Mr. Simon does during Celebrity’s
chaotic hour and fifty-three minutes: I won’t be forgetting his almost sleeping with a model (Charlize Theron) or his dramatic encounter with a bombastic heartthrob (Leonardo DiCaprio), and I certainly won’t forget the shallowness with which he leaves his wife (Judy Davis) and later his mistress (Famke Janssen). Least he’s able to maintain some sort of relationship with a film extra (Winona Ryder) that seems to understand him.
I’d consider Celebrity to be plotless if Allen weren’t so conscientious of his following the lives of Simon and his aforementioned ex-wife, but such would be a careless thing to do (even though the film definitively bears many similarities to the Fellini/De Sica/Visconti/Monicelli collaboration Boccaccio ’70). It’s a messy film to be sure, encompassed mostly of half-baked ideas that don’t manage to say or do much. But Allen’s performers are delightful, as are the majority of the situations he thrusts them into.
With the exception of Branagh, who’s really insufferably imitating the schtick of his director, and Davis, who plays morose with the stereotypic bleary-eyedness of an actress in an antidepressant commercial, the sizable ensemble is more or less in a battle of scene stealing, outgunning another being the utmost priority. Particularly standing out are Theron as a fashion model who’s supposedly able to reach orgasm if you touch any part of her body just the right way, DiCaprio as the volatile River Phoenix type who could get away with murder with his female fans loving him so unwaveringly, Griffith as the superstar who seems to have rehearsed everything she’s ever said in front of a mirror before the start of the day, and Ryder as the girl next door Simon’d change his life for.
Celebrity’s not peak Allen — it’s more a part of his perceived selection of bad pictures (The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Scoop) — and yet I’m far from calling it a failure, especially since there’s so much to like and since its flaws are mostly covered up by the charms he’s so easily able to conjure. B