Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.


Woody Allen's latest film is Celebrity, a glib, self-congratulatory ensemble comedy that follows an indefinite amount of time in the life of a struggling writer (Kenneth Branagh) and his estranged wife, a high-school teacher (Judy Davis) undergoing a midlife crisis. If Allen's similarly grating Deconstructing Harry was essentially an odds-and-ends collection built around a snarky post-modern framework, Celebrity often feels like a collection of rerecorded greatest hits, a compendium of characters, gags, and themes from his other films, redone with different actors and a few minor changes. Allen even makes a handful of references to his earlier work, the most obvious of which is the presence of a vacuous supermodel (Charlize Theron) who shares Annie Hall's trait of being "polymorphously perverse." But such acts of self-homage tend to illustrate just how perfunctory Allen's work has become. It may be asking a little much to expect each new film to exhibit significant artistic growth, but his world doesn't seem to have changed at all over the last 30 years, and his films have become as stylized and formal as an evening of Kabuki theater. Nobody in Celebrity seems to inhabit anything resembling the real world; they all behave as if they know they're in a Woody Allen movie, and have resigned themselves to circumscribed existences in which everyone sees a shrink and makes self-deprecating comments about their insecurities. But perhaps the film's biggest flaw is the hideous central presence of Branagh, a questionable enough performer in his own right, but an almost unwatchable irritation in Celebrity as he freakishly apes Allen's every gesture and inflection. As can be expected, there are a handful of good lines and a few genuine laughs, as well as gorgeous black-and-white cinematography by Sven Nykvist. But beyond those minor pleasures, Celebrity is a waste, a tedious and depressingly routine film by a filmmaker on a steep, possibly permanent artistic decline.


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