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Case Number 00098

Buy Celebrity at Amazon


Miramax // 1998 // 113 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // August 18th, 1999

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All Rise...

The Charge

A funny look at people who will do anything to get famous…or stay famous.

Opening Statement

Beautiful people, fine actors, New York, Woody Allen, sex, and infidelity get all mashed together in this odd movie, which probably so stunned Buena Vista that it shipped this shamefully bare-bones disc.

The Evidence

I have to admit, I've never been a Woody Allen fan. I just never could get past all the neurotic pretentiousness and quirkiness, and his sordid personal life didn't help matters much. I was willing to give Celebrity a fair shake on the strength of its stellar cast, particularly Kenneth Branagh, whose Shakespearean efforts I simply adore. It's not a strongly plot driven movie, but rather an extended slice of life movie that follows the divergent paths of a divorced couple for a period of time, liberally sprinkled with musings, quirky scenes, and Woody Allen's psyche.

On the whole, I found Celebrity to be very hard to like due to the decline of Lee Simon (Kenneth Branagh) from neurotic but nice to a philanderer whose spineless lack of self-control and absence of moral scruples makes it impossible to feel much sympathy for him. At first glance, Nola (Winona Ryder) seems sweet, but by the end she's not that likeable either, and neither is the shallow supermodel (Charlize Theron), or the hotel-wrecking, girlfriend-beating punk Brandon Darrow (Leonardo DeCaprio). In art imitating life, we also have a ragingly hypocritical actress, Nicole Oliver (Melanie Griffith), who seems to have borrowed her definitions of sex and marital fidelity from Bill Clinton.

This is not to say that there are no sympathetic or likable characters. Robin Simon (Judy Davis) is stunning in her transformation from wronged woman to media star, as is Tony Gardella (Joe Mantegna) as her sweetly devoted boyfriend, and so is Bonnie (Famke Janssen) as the sexy, intelligent book-editor who is used and abused by Lee Simon. It is just that in the end, the unlikable characters reach critical mass and drag the movie down to the point where I did not care too much for it.

The story begins with Lee Simon hanging around a movie set, waiting to do an interview with Nicole Oliver, and flirting with Nola in the meantime. He finally goes off with Nicole to visit her childhood home, flirts with her in her old bedroom, and after being shot down for a mattress dance nevertheless gets a nice surprise. Robin is hiding out at some sort of Catholic retreat, recovering from the shock of her divorce. We flashback and witness the moment where Lee tells Robin that he wants a divorce, basically because he's bored and wants to start sleeping with other women as often as he wants. Robin takes it rather poorly, as you might expect, since this comes out of the blue after sixteen years of marriage.

We then find Lee hanging out behind the scenes of a lingerie fashion show, where he meets a sizzling supermodel (Charlize Theron) and seems about ready to fulfill his most desired sexual fantasies. Until, that is, Lee gets so neurotic and flustered that he drives his car into a shop window and his dream woman flees into the night.

Robin is considering plastic surgery to rejuvenate her life, but decides against it, and is just about to leave when she runs into TV producer Tony Gardella. The pair seems smitten with each other at first sight, and a first date (a celebrity movie screening) is rapidly made. The night ends badly when Robin gets a couple of drinks under her belt and publicly screams bitterness at Lee and his date Bonnie.

Lee thinks back to his recent high school reunion, which had prompted him to face his feelings of wanting to escape his marriage and sample the fruits of freedom. Back in the present, Bonnie prods Lee to restart his career as a writer, dragging him to a party with famous writers and book publishers. Robin has recovered from her disaster date, and is working backstage for Tony in a Jerry Springer-like circus atmosphere. You should take a moment to savor the scene where the Klansmen, skinheads, and black militants all share the amenities in the backstage lounge.

While Robin and Tony's relationship blossoms, Lee finds himself in the chaotic retinue of an arrogant and amoral young actor/punk, Brandon Darrow, who can trash a hotel room one moment and gamble away thousands of dollars the next, or partake quite liberally of drugs and willing women. Lee escapes from Brandon's clutches feeling quite drained of energy and money, and no closer to finding a home for the screenplay he's been writing. Lee decides to accede to Bonnie's demands, and dusts off a partly written novel, intending to finish it this time.

Some time later, Lee's happiness with Bonnie is in trouble, thanks to Nola's sudden and flirtatious reappearance, which prompts Lee to ask Bonnie to move out and end their relationship. Bonnie is righteously furious and takes sweet revenge by running off with Lee's only copy of his (by now) finished novel and throwing it page by page into a river. Meanwhile, Robin has become a high-class TV personality, much to her surprise, and after an emotional crisis marries Tony.

In the end, Lee unhappily stays with Nola, well aware of her infidelities, wounded beyond pain at his own sorry life and knowing how successful and happy Robin is without him.

This may seem like a pretty dry synopsis, and I have to admit, it is impossible to capture the cinematic nooks and crannies of a move like this. From start to finish, it is clearly a Woody Allen script, and if you haven't seen any of his other movies, Celebrity will have more of a fresh and unique quality. There are no obvious messages here, just a disjointed story about odd people's lives, bumping from scene to scene without significant direction. When a movie combines such a casual attitude towards plot and characters as does Celebrity, it is a sure sign that a scriptwriter should have been hired to do some rewrites.

It's hard to do much of a video critique for a movie that is not in color! As it is, the sharpness is good but still a little soft, and the even more critical contrast is somewhat lacking. The print is generally clean, but not completely so. None of these flaws are particularly distracting, but I have higher standards in these areas for a black & while film.

For such a movie, which is nothing but dialogue, dialogue, and some music mixed in with more dialogue, the mono soundtrack is perfectly acceptable. Throwing in a 5.1 mix would very likely be more harm than good, and what would your subwoofer do anyway?

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Despite my severe reservations about the story, the acting is generally quite good. Kenneth Branagh has Woody Allen down so cold, he might have been channeling him. The rest of the cast (cameos not included) are clearly having a ball with their respective roles. Leonardo DiCaprio should be commended for choosing a role that expands his talent past the usual pretty boy roles, and Bebe Neuwirth is deadpan funny as a professional, ah, sex worker, whose instructional use of a banana may alter the way you view that fruit.

I fear I may be repetitious to note a complete lack of extras. Absolutely nothing at all. I can hardly believe that someone had the guts to list widescreen format and chapter search as "special features!" and to include the very stupid and totally worthless "Film Recommendations" as a menu item.

The Amaray keep case is a lone jewel in a void of special features.

Closing Statement

If you want a change of pace, or are a Woody Allen fan, it's worth your time to check out this disc, but as it is priced at $30 and has such an appalling lack of extras, I cannot recommend a purchase.

The Verdict

The film is guilty of misdemeanor failure to request a script rewrite and the disc is guilty beyond question. Buena Vista should have its right to release its own DVDs suspended indefinitely.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 85
Audio: 75
Extras: 0
Acting: 85
Story: 55
Judgment: 60

Perp Profile

Studio: Miramax
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
• None
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Comedy

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb

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