Zelig is a fake documentary about Leonard Zelig (Allen). Zelig is a person living in the 1920’s who has the uncanny ability to look and act like the people around him. If he is around doctor’s, he can fake being a doctor, if he is around fat people then he grows to match their size, and so on. Dr. Fletcher (Mia Farrow) tries to help Zelig because he has no individual personality and always goes along with what the group does.
I had not seen Zelig before, but I was completely surprised. It is not too often that Woody makes a completely sweet and charming movie but here is one example. Here is a simple concept but taken with 100% effort and imagination. The whole movie is shot like a documentary about this long forgotten man. You have talking heads (played by unknowns) to give the back story and little insights into the character but the rest of it looks like found footage material. We are shown still photos with Zelig cropped somewhere as some wacky Where’s Waldo. Then we get grainy silent film of him meeting famous people and being in crowded sites. All of it feels like stuff that would be logically found about this person and never strains the credibility of the internal logic of the movie. A lot of effort went into making the movie look that way. A lot of special effects had to be used to insert Woody into all these old photographs and to make the film look the way it did. The movie would still look great to audiences today.
Zelig isn’t a movie that is going to have you rolling on the floor laughing. As I said, this is a very sweet and lovable comedy. We get the funny premise which is complete with the story of a star’s rise, fall, and rise back to fame again. But we also get one of Woody’s most endearing characters with Zelig. He is a shy quiet little man who always figured going with the crowd was the best way to be liked by everyone. This culminating in the funny climax of Zelig joining the Nazi party and Fletcher having to save him. During the course of the movie Fletcher helps Zelig find his own personality and realize how important it is to be you. This is all complete with a nice romance between these two characters.
Like I said, this isn’t a movie that had me laughing a ton but I did love it. The movie is so charming and so endearing it is hard not to be won over by it. At a blistering 80 minutes, Zelig never drags and does everything it can with the premise. This is a Woody film I will be revisiting many times in the future and I recommend you check it out if you are an Allen fan and haven’t checked this one out yet.