Fictional documentary about the life of human chameleon Leonard Zelig, a man who becomes a celebrity in the 1920s due to his ability to look and act like whoever is around him. Clever editing places Zelig in real newsreel footage of Woodrow Wilson, Babe Ruth, and others. Written by
Scott Renshaw <email@example.com>
Terrific concept, great effects, lackluster final product.
This movie looks and feels just like a real documentary. Real 1920's newsreel footage (into which Woody Allen has been seamlessly inserted) is impossible to tell from the faux-footage Mr. Allen filmed himself. Scenes from the fake 1935 movie telling the Leonard Zelig story, which are shown periodically throughout the film, not only look like a film of that era, but are written and acted as such as well. And interviews with real experts, on the fictional character of Zelig, complete the effect quite nicely. There can be no doubt that this movie looks terrific. But the problem lies in the content.
Leonard Zelig, the human chameleon, is a fascinating character. But someone besides Woody Allen should have played him. Mr. Allen is (or can be) a brilliant writer/director, but his range as an actor is limited. And so, though we see plenty of brilliantly done, authentic-looking footage, photos, etc. of Leonard Zelig blending in with his surroundings, we hardly ever see him interact in those surroundings. The pictures and clips of Woody Allen as a rabbi, a fat person, a Nazi, etc. are amusing, but they are not substantial. We are told that he is able, not only to look like those around him, but to converse like them to. But the only time we see him do this is when he's playing a psychiatrist: no stretch for Mr. Allen, who discusses psychoanalysis in many of his films (though usually from the recipient's point-of-view). And so the only time we actually hear from Zelig is when Dr. Eudora Fletcher puts him into a trance, at which time he has no personality of his own. It's a shame; he's such a fascinating character, but the only way we really know he's a fascinating character is because we are told so by others. In lieu of scenes that help us get to know the characters personally, we are given narration and talking heads. This is not the way to make any film, not even a documentary.
When it comes to Woody Allen mockumentaries, I much prefer Take the Money and Run. It's not as researched and authentic-looking as Zelig, but it's far funnier, and far more engaging.
7 of 10 people found this review helpful.
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