Celebrity (Woody Allen, 1998)

‘Celebrity’, made in 1998, shows Woody Allen again attempting to tell us about old age and mid-life and, the problems with it. But this time Woody Allen is in the guise of Kenneth Branagh, playing Lee. Lee has been married 16 years and has decided to divorce his wife Robin (Judy Davis), a woman who was completely oblivious/unaware of Lee’s feelings – feeling’s rooted in lust. Another preoccupation of Woody Allen. We see the two try and restore some type of normality to their lives – akin to the initial happiness they had with each other I presume, except better. Obviously, someone is the dumped (Robin, upset, in some sort of religious retreat home …) and the other is the dumpee (Lee, happy as Larry successfully sleeping with many women). Bear in mind, Lee is a writer/reviewer for a celebrity publication with aspirations of becoming a screenwriter. It’s Kenneth Branagh doing a Woody Allen impersonation – is this the type of person a successful Hollywood A-list actress gives a blowjob too for no other reason except because she can? Or maybe this awkward I-don’t-think-this-is-very-realistic attitude should be turned into humour. Woody Allen often does this I find – Rebecca Hall in ‘Vicky Christina Barcelona’ convinced she will never cheat on her fiancé and then, because of a Spanish guitar she goes against this completely … again, not incredibly realistic, but you have to accept it. Mark Kermode and everyone else, seems to agree that a lot of Woody Allen films seem, to some extent, to be about him. You paint the picture … 1998, Woody has been in a relationship with Soon-Yi Previn for many years. He is 35 years her senior. If I am right, they actually got married in 1997. Then he makes a film about a guy, going through a mid-life crisis and who splits up from his wife for a younger model, and then splits up with a long term partner, for a younger model and he ends up, incredibly unhappy. As I felt with Manhattan, this film would be so much easier to take if Woody Allens own personal life did not have so many correlations.

Talking about ‘Manhattan’, ‘Celebrity’ is shot in black and white also, giving it a certain, classical edge. I guess this is against shooting it as colourful and flashy akin to a McDonalds Happy Meal … which, would probably be more appropriate. Does he deem celebrity culture to be a good thing? Eric Lax in ‘Conversations with Woody Allen’ gives the impression that Woody hates the celebrity culture, only going on the press junkets if he has to as part of a contract – but if he can shy away from them, he would. I cannot help but feel that Allen likes to create this beautiful look to a film – he knows how to do it well (so, a safe bet) and he has the supporting staff to make it happen. Namely Sven Nykvist – the cinematographer of many Woody Allen films, and more importantly, of Ingmar Bergman’s films. This is not ‘Cries and Whispers’. This is not ‘The Seventh Seal’. This is a Woody Allen [comedy] movie about a mid-life crisis. The balance is incorrect and doesn’t suit the tone of the script itself. To add to this, you have the – I don’t want to say it, but I will – pretentious music. I love the music, but again, it is hardly representative of the world he is trying to portray. Maybe this is another [unnecessary] classical edge to the film.

The cast on the other hand is second-to-none. I’ve harped on about Branagh enough, Judy Davis is brilliant – combining an element of distrust and lack-of-confidence just right to play off Joe Mantegna’s ‘Tony’, who is basically the perfect man: Italian, funny, unmarried, rich, intelligent, loving family – the lot. The tension is whether poor Robin will keep this guy, who she knows all too well, she doesn’t want to lose. Then there are the small cameos, but incredibly important, parts*. Specifically Leonardo DiCaprio in his first performance post-Titanic.

You have to wait a little for my ‘Titanic-is-a-fu*king-good-movie’ review, but nevertheless, he is flawless. While happy in a relationship, Lee attempts to sell his screenplay to successful film star Brandon Darrow (DiCaprio) while Darrow is having the time of his life at the peak of his success. He beats his girlfriend, he gets arrested, he travels to Atlantic City, he gambles, he takes drugs and he has orgies … and this is within the space of about 10 minutes and, most importantly, at no point do you feel that anything is false, he simply plays the role to a T. It is perfect. It is aspects like this that makes the film so good and, although it is unnecessary, it does look stunning and maybe, just maybe, I have got to stop assuming what should be done and accept what has been done. It looks good, it sounds good, they act well and the script is good … its just not great and, I’m sure, it could be.

*It is also interesting to mention, on a side note, that you get a little flavour of the TV stars just about to break out in the successful TV programmes of the future. Stars from The Sopranos (Paulie Walnuts and Janice Soprano), The West Wing (CJ), The Wire (Avon Barksdale) and even Hank Azaria makes an appearance (aka half the cast of The Simpsons)


  1. Having lived in Barcelona for the last year, your one comment about Rebecca Hall in Vicky Christina Barcelona has just proven you missed the whole concept of the movie.
    The storyline behind it is nothing to with the guitar or the ability of the player. The whole storyline is based around people’s experiences and emotions while being in Barcelona and living there.
    Anyone who has lived there will tell how true the movie is…

  2. I LOVED “Vicky Christina Barcelona” first off! My point was simply that I often find certain facets of Woody Allens movies a little improbable. I also went to Barcelona in the Easter break recently and loved the city – and I shall try and take you up on your advice in living there … one day … then I will understand fully this concept you speak of!

    Maybe a better example would be … was trying to say something about “Match Point”, but thats incredible and so I can’t find something wrong with that … erm … maybe just how irresistable to women Woody Allen often seems to be. His character are always, like Branagh, pedantic, frustrating and, very often, selfish … how how how??

    Thanks for your comment though!

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