Admittedly I came late to the Woody Allen bandwagon. I didn't get
turned on to his films until I was in college in Boston but I quickly made
up for lost time. They were a staple of the revival houses in Cambridge
and I often went to see BANANAS and SLEEPER and so on. I'll admit,
I didn't "get" ANNIE HALL when I first saw it, but that was before my
first real adult relationship. Six months later, when I saw it again, I
more than got it. To me, MANHATTAN ranks as one of the great films
of the latter-half of this century. Maybe because it also reflects my own
love affair with New York City. Over the years, I've gone along with the
Woodman, suffering through some of the lesser efforts (anyone remember
SEPTEMBER?), marveling at the ingenuity of a ZELIG and basking in the
intelligence and skill of a HANNAH AND HER SISTERS. But lately,
something has happened. Ever since BULLETS OVER BROADWAY,
Woody's lost me. He seems to have run out of things to say and the
sight of him romancing younger women has begun to become
uncomfortable. I hate to say it, but ever since his split with Mia Farrow
he seems to have lost his muse. The films of the last few years
have been decidedly minor and often more scatological. Woody Allen
has lost his edge.
All this is a long-winded introduction to his latest feature
CELEBRITY, a discourse on our modern culture and its obsession with
fame. Yawn! Sven Nykvist's black-and- white cinematography is okay,
but it lacks the depth of contrast that the great Gordon Willis captured
in MANHATTAN. There really seems to be no reason for the story not
to have been shot in color. And the couple at the center are now so
typical of the Allen neurotics that they almost border on cliché. Judy
Davis does what she can to breathe life into a role she nailed the first
time in HUSBANDS AND WIVES. At least she is not as shrill as she
was in DECONSTRUCTING HARRY and she does have an arc to her
character who goes from teacher of Chaucer to TV reporter.
Other critics have carped about Kenneth Branagh's performance
as her ex-husband as he seems to be channeling Woody Allen, down
to the stutter and vocal inflections. Actually, Branagh didn't really annoy
me, but then I've always had a bit of a soft spot for him. As is typical,
there are several outstanding supporting performances in a cast packed
with blink and you miss them roles: Patti D'Arbanville nearly
unrecognizable in a black wig; the luscious Charlize Theron whose
primary job is to look beautiful; Famke Janssen as a book editor who
falls for Branagh; Melanie Griffith as a sexy screen siren; and Winona
Ryder as a wanna-be actress who also gets involved with Branagh.
The best performance in the film, though, is delivered by Leonardo
DiCaprio who slyly sends up his contemporaries as a temperamental
actor with a penchant for trashing hotel rooms and sleeping with models.
DiCaprio is onscreen for maybe 10 minutes but the film comes alive.
It's too bad Woody Allen didn't decide to make a film about his
character. That would have been a more interesting choice.
As it is CELEBRITY says little new about its topic. The jokes for
the most part seem stale and overly familiar. Maybe I've spent too
many hours watching Allen's films. Maybe I've become jaundiced in my
viewpoint. Or maybe Woody needs a collaborator. His best films
from ANNIE HALL and MANHATTAN to BULLETS OVER BROADWAY
were written with others (Marshall Brickman in the case of the two
former films, Douglas McGrath in the latter). That's not to say Allen
solo hasn't produced some gems, but they are outweighed by the
near misses and outright flops. As I write this, he is already at work
on his next film and I can tell you one thing. I'll be there to see it,
hoping that that one has more meat than CELEBRITY.
|© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.