20 September 1999 | Steve-176
The selfish generation
Woody Allen is certainly a celebrity if attention from the tabloids is any judge and well qualified to write a film about Celebrity.
He lives openly in Manhattan amongst the rich yuppies he loves to write about and has attracted plenty of tabloid attention to do with his private life. Whether he has succeeded in presenting a film about the concept of celebrity is debatable though because this film throws itself in probably a dozen directions, not really leaving familiar Allen territory.
His films usually feature himself playing a character very like himself or a character who is recognisably Woody Allen. He's portrayed as a dithering, well meaning but self serving sophisticate who's friends and lovers spar their way through self induced minor crises of the heart.
Allen's films usually contain a myriad of set pieces, often centered about religious guilt and a fear of commitment, and they're nearly always very funny.
In Celebrity the English master actor Kenneth Branagh has taken the Woody Allen part playing a journalist Lee Simon with terrific energy and authenticity.
Lee is facing a mid life crisis. He confesses infidelities to his wife Robin (Australia's Judy Davis - in another wonderful performance) and then bounces from one disappointment with women and with his career to the next. He wants to write a novel but can't get together the courage. He no doubt fears he lacks the talent.
Robin on the other hand has a classic female Woody Allen female break down but then haltingly blossoms when Tony (Joe Mantegna) falls unreservedly in love with her. But can she cope even with this? In fact Woody Allen films are so much about lack of confidence and are seemingly so autobiographical that it's a wonder Allen hasn't lost his nerve in real life and ended up not being able to face Central Park or a movie studio at all. It's a wonder he's not permanently in therapy (perhaps he is!)
The secret must lie with the generosity and concern he feels for the rich cocaine and diamond social set he shares. His humor is warm and never cruel, although women may take issue with this.
There are some particularly demeaning (but not nasty) scenes for the women in Celebrity although humiliation isn't confined to the women. The men are often equally lost and at the mercy of their uncertainties and lack of clear direction in life.
Oh to be so spoilt! Woody Allen films are often about the nearly idle rich and more importantly about the selfish generation. Love affairs always seem to be temporary affairs, even if they last years, ready to make way for a new model.
Viewers, as often happens in a Woody Allen film, can play the star spotting game. As well as Kenneth Branagh and Judy Davis and Joe Mantegna there's Leonardo DiCaprio, Gretchen Mol,, Famke Jansen, Winona Ryder, Bebe Neuwirth, and Charlize Theron to recognise.
The wit is often sharp and very funny with solid stabs being made at Catholic idolatry, the media, supercilious film directors and spoilt brat stars. There's a fine moment of two some, hilarious, some touching.
The Woody Allen moaning becomes a bit of a whine once or twice but Celebrity wins hands down with plenty of fine, fun dialogue and beautifully realised photography and a final meekly despairing plea from the scared to be committed.