When Can We Do Sex?

DEREK MALCOM reports from Venice on Woody Allen's Celebrity

Celebrity, says Woody Allen, is a comic film about the phenomenon that has reached "such hysterical proportions that even a fellatrix can achieve nationwide notoriety".Sex looms large in this equation, with leading lady (Judy Davis) practising fellatio with a hooker and a banana because she feels she is too Protestant to satify her new found love (Joe Mantegna)

Our Woody is getting more and more plain spoken, as Deconstucting Harry showed, and there are times in his new film when he seems to be making some pretty cheap or at least facile shots. Not least when he casts Leonardo DiCaprio as a succesful young star who invites Kenneth Branagh's celebrity journalist, who is hawking him with a film script, to a cocaine fuelled sex orgy in his hotel room.

The site of DiCaprio playing what one hopes is not himself is a nice (and very funny) corrective to his romantic Titanic image, and he must have enjoyed it, hoping that the teenage audience that has virtually canonised him won't necessarily be looking out for the next Woody Allen opus.

At base, however, Celebrity is as much about the chancy nature of finding happiness and love as it is about the availability of sex. And since Allen tends to make films paying homage to his favorite filmmakers, you could say that this is another of his Fellini clones, like Stardust Memories. A latter day version of La Dolce Vita perhaps, with Branagh in the Mastroianni part.

Branagh is the character you would normally expect to be played by Woody himself and gives an enjoyable imitation of his director as the journalist who, having left his wife (Davis) attempts to find sex with Melanie Griffith's film star and Winona Ryder for good measure. But you do sometimes wish Woody had taken the part himself.

Davis looks more confortable in her part as his ex-wife, booking a session with a famous plastic surgeon who, while examining her wrinkles, also talks into a TV camera. She's only preventing form going under the knife by Mantegna's TV producer who thinks she's already had a face job and loves the result.

Thoroughly enamoured, he then makes her into a celebrity reporter and, in one of the funniest sequences, she dashes round the tables of a fashionable restaurant interviewing, amoung others, Donald Trump playing himself.

In the end, Celebrity, though great fun, fails to avoid seeming a little throwaway in its effect because neither of the central characters has the chance to come totally to life as the large cast of bit players circle around them.

But Sven Nykvist, Bergman's veteran cinematographer, shoots eloquently in black and white, which Allen says he like because of all the old films he watches. His fluency is such nowadays that the fact that his films are getting lomger that the regulation 90 minutes doesn't seem to matter.

Celebrity isn't top class Allen. All the same, it should be enough to satify his fans, who are mostly in Europe these days. It's unlikely to turn around those American critics who claim that a Woody Allen comedy is always more of the same old jewish New York schtick.

[Thanks to Rob]