Celebrity Review

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Lee and Robin divorce, and he makes it his mission to seek out fame, celebrity and riches. Meanwhile she has a chance meeting with a new man, and finds happiness - and fame - almost by accident.


To the tones of Beethoven's Fifth, a single-seater fighter writes the word HELP in its vapour trail in the Manhattan sky. It's a great opening. Minutes later, Melanie Griffith is giving Kenneth Branagh a blow job in her childhood bedroom. Yes, we're in New Woody territory.

The self-loathing of Deconstructing Harry has been toned down, but there's no stinting on the sex, drugs and swearing - with Gershwin and urban neuroses present and correct, too. Celebrity is set within the worlds of filmmaking, publishing, fashion and TV, and the vehicle that carries Allen's wry examination of the human condition this time out is fame - in all its cruel and unpredictable glory.

Branagh plays Lee Simon, a self-absorbed celebrity hack whose early mid-life crisis prompts him to dump his frumpy wife Robin (Davis), buy an Aston Martin and take off in search of the high life. What he finds, through a series of shallow affairs (cue: Charlize Theron, Winona Ryder and Famke Janssen) and increasingly desperate attempts to get his screenplay read, is that the pursuit of fame can be a dispiriting business, and that even a BJ from Melanie Griffith is simply icing on a very shitty cake. Robin, on the other hand, left dithering in the ruins of her marriage, has her life transformed through a chance meeting with a suave TV executive (Joe Mantegna) and ends up happy, fulfilled and famous almost despite herself.

Celebrity is Woody back on top form - poignant, touching, profound. And, thank God, it's funny. Which is good, because if it wasn't so gracefully executed, Branagh's prodigiously bad performance would have dragged it under. His slavish impersonation of Allen, grotesquely amplifying every vocal mannerism and behavioural tick, is as inexplicable as it is annoying. That the film survives - triumphs, in fact - is testament to how good it really is.

A scathing look at fame-seekers and the shallow people that they work at, this still offers some hope and optimism for the rest of the human race.