Celebrity (1998) Woody Allen

Production Budget: $12 million
Domestic Gross: about $5 million

Now you’ll have to excuse the quality of the next few Allen reviews. I have seen the movies a while back but these past few months have been some of the busiest for me so I couldn’t write them when they were freshest in my memory.

Celebrity is about a couple (played by Kenneth Branagh and Judy Davis) who divorce and go in different directions afterward. Lee (Branagh) ruins several opportunities for success while Robin’s life gets much better.

Celebrity is a movie that has had a roller coaster of reactions. It was panned by critics and the public initiall and has since gained a cult following (I guess like many Allen movies now that I mention it). So where does my opinion lie?

Like every other review I have to discuss the elephant in the room which is the casting of Kenneth Branagh. Now I’ll discuss this in more general terms and move specifically to Branagh himself. In general I’m reminded of a time I saw American Idol (like ten years ago) and one week they did covers of the Bee Gees. Immediately I knew that no matter how talented these singers were, there was going to be some butchery with these songs. Because like him or hate him, there was only one person who could do the shrill womany shrieks of Barry Gibb and that was Barry Gibb. He was unique, and no wannabe karoke singer could ever do that voice justice. Or to put it in acting terms, no one can ever do Christopher Walken (a serious version anyway). The guy is a unique character and no one can do a Walken performance justice. I will also put Woody Allen in the same category. Yes, many people have been cast in the Woody Allen nebbish persona. Some have done it better and some have done it worse, but no one could or should honestly try it. Really, Allen should have known better.

This brings me to Kenneth Branagh speaking of the “worse” performances. Yes I’m beating a dead horse but believe me when I say I tried giving him a chance. I’m all about re-evaluating long held opinions and for the first ten minutes or so, I didn’t have a problem with it. It started as a rather toned down version which wasn’t that bad, but then he ramps it up to 11. He stutters and sputters and flails his arms like mad and you wonder what part of the scenery he won’t chew. To some this is a deal breaker for the movie, for me I’ll settle with very annoying.

Celebrity doesn’t play like a three act movie so much as a series of vignettes. I’m reminded of Mr. Bean episode titles. Mr. Allen dates a Supermodel, Mr. Allen’ Vegas Weekend, Mr. Allen’s wife Learns How to do a Blowjob. Okay the last is a little long but you get the idea.

I will admit the movie is very funny at times. The best parts are the scenes where he tries to pick up Charlize Theron’s character and when he spends a crazy weekend with Leonardo DiCaprio. But then there are scenes that don’t really go anywhere or fall flat like when Lee tries to pick up on Melanie Griffith’s character with no good payoff.

To me the movie really drags when the narrative switches to Robin. Now I know she serves a purpose in the narrative and we are contrasting the two stories. However she is not a very interesting character and she doesn’t have as good material as Lee does. Probably the most comical scene she is given is where she learns a proper blow job from a prostitute and even that is tame and worn out by today’s standards.

To me Celebrity’s misses outweigh its hits. It has some funny and even iconic scenes but there is far too much down time and scenes that just fall flat. Judy Davis is completely underwritten compared to Branagh’s character and it really doesn’t help that Branagh gives one of the most annoying portrayals of Allen ever. I don’t hate Celebrity or think it is one of his worst, I just didn’t find it a satisfying experience overall.


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