Celebrity (1998) is to Woody Allen what Prêt-à-Porter (1994) was to Robert Altman. A complete mess of a film.
Promoting this film on Parkinson, Allen was very amusing about the cult of celebrity that had taken the USA hostage, and who wouldn't have predicted a fine satire on the vacuity of the publicity machine? Alas. And alas again. It wasn't to be; at least, not until later.
If you do give it a go, be warned, the DVD blurb on the box gives the movie's outcome away. So you're basically waiting for the execution over 100mins, theirs and yours. Like Altman's film, Celebrity is awash with famous names, glitzy talent, and they're all wasted and it comes to nothing. A similar problem, albeit on a smaller scale, affected Woody's later British-led movie, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger. Come to think of it, both movies use fortune tellers to empty effect.
Branagh in the role of Lee Simon has divorced his wife, Robin (Judy Davis), and is seeking fulfilment as a celebrity news hack and wannabe scriptwriter. We see the dramatic moment when he tells Robin that he wants out...15mins into the movie. At last! It's starting. The bits with Melanie Griffith and Charlize Theron are utter tripe. There's a scene with Winona Ryder at the start, and then she vanishes until the final act, so to speak, and a promising, or at least romantic, storyline is misdirected, and wasted. And where's the satire, really?
Judy Davis' character is a neurotic nuisance, inexplicably attractive to a game Joe Mantegna. She's whatever she was in Husbands & Wives (1992) multiplied by her role in The Ref (1994), and a potentially funny scene in which Bebe Neuwirth teaches her how to fellate a banana is, again, a clunker. As for the ever youthful Leonardo dicaprio, much less famous then, he comes on all guns blazing, a proto-Justin Bieber, but the combo of his fk-boi cool and Branagh's jabbering Woody-substitute, is just too annoying.
You have to wonder, why would Hollywood actors want to even do a movie satirizing the very stuff that was their goal in the first place: glamour? Wouldn't a stage play, populated by genuine snooty thesps, or even a novel, or a radio play, any other medium, have worked better?
It's a missed opportunity. It makes you want to run screaming back to Annie Hall (1977), or to Stardust Memories (1980), or even run forward to the greatly underrated To Rome With Love (2012). Maybe the upcoming millennium threw Woody, maybe everybody, off balance, somehow. Celebrity begins and ends with a cry for HELP, courtesy of a skywriter. Perhaps Woody was trying to tell us something?
Whatever the explanation, Celebrity marks the beginning of the fallow years (almost wrote Farrow, haha), the niche charm of Sweet & Lowdown and sporadic chuckles of Small Time Crooks aside. He didn't begin to recover until Melinda & Melinda (2004), and after that we had Match Point (2005), and a hat trick of Oscar successes. Ultimately he can be excused a couple of duds, this being one of them.