Beautiful stars, thronging crowds, the lust for fame . . . and failing all that, trying to get close to it. Not bad topics for a contemporary film and potentially prime material for Woody Allen, whose Stardust Memories (his take on Fellini's 8 ¡) provided a peek into his love/hate relationship with fans, critics, and fame.
directed by Woody Allen
starring Kenneth Branagh, Judy Davis, Leonardo DiCaprio
now playing at Meridian, Seven Gables
Celebrity ostensibly channels another Fellini film, La Dolce Vita, through the lens of Ingmar Bergman cinematographer Sven Nykvist and Allen's own sardonic humor. But the homage serves as little more than a backdrop to the director's pet themes: aging neurotic men who abandon wives and lovers for sexy girls, and unhappy middle-aged women who gather the strength to get on with their lives.
Kenneth Branagh is Lee Simon, a smarmy 40-year-old entertainment reporter who hound-dogs every young, attractive woman he meets; his nose would be in their crotch if he weren't held back by decorum. It's Marcello Mastroianni in La Dolce Vita meets Woody Allen in Manhattan—but Branagh hasn't the charm of either. Watching Lee put the make on horny supermodel Charlize Theron ("I don't usually drool in my date's salad") may be the squirmiest scene of the year. Allen brought a certain malevolent innocence to the lead in Deconstructing Harry; it was perversely funny to see him as a whiny middle-aged satyr. Branagh just comes off as sleazy.
Judy Davis fares better as Robin, the wife he abandoned, a nervous wreck dealing with her identity crisis and anger after being cut adrift from the relationship that anchored her for nearly 20 years. For the first half of the film she's a painful caricature, hiding under tables at public receptions and screaming during film screenings, but Allen allows her to flower into confidence. Between the one-liners, Davis turns her self-pitying hysteric into graceful, sensitive, assured woman.
Nykvist's black-and-white cinematography nails the carefully orchestrated spontaneity of the paparazzi look—especially in the scenes with Leonardo DiCaprio, whose turn as a smug, self-absorbed movie star throwing tantrums and trashing hotel rooms is a casting coup. But take away all this and Celebrity is just another guilty confession from a horny old guy. It's cinematic psychoanalysis turned exhibitionism, and I'm frankly a little tired of seeing Allen work out his issues on the screen—at least until he has something new to say about them.