Thursday, December 29, 2011

Day 253 - Zelig

Zelig (1983) directed by Woody Allen

Hidden inside Woody Allen's little mockumentary is a film full of the self depreciating humor that would be his trademark. It also epitomizes the central theme in Allen's life and work, his inability to fit in.

Leonard Zelig is a man who can change his appearance to fit his surroundings and I don't mean that he is a master of disguise; he literally changes his physical appearance. For instance, when talking with a couple overweight men he suddenly gains over a hundred pounds. When standing next to a black man, or Negro as the film likes to say, his skin turns black. When standing next to a Chinese man his skin turns pale, his eyes slant and can speak passable Chinese. This remarkable ability, or condition, earns him the nickname the Human Chameleon and baffle psychiatrists for years. It is determined that Zelig's ability to change his appearance is due to his deep rooted desire to want to be liked and to fit in.

Zelig is a quirky little mockumentary shot in 20's style black and white footage, intercut with present day (1983) interviews. It plays like a convincing History Channel documentary and if not for the obvious humor, it seems quite real. From what I understand, Allen used old newsreel footage and inserted himself and other actors by using bluescreen, similar to the scenes in Forrest Gump.

I appreciated the film for its uniqueness and cleverness and enjoyed it for often hilarious humor. Leonard Zelig is the original Dos Equis man aka The Most Interesting Man Alive. For instance, as a kid his family lived in an apartment above a bowling alley; it was the bowling alley that would complain about the noise. Later in his life, he would set the record for longest continuous fight over the Atlantic, while flying upside down. Woody Allen is one of the great comedians.

The film isn't actually really that funny. It's not that the jokes strike out a lot, it's that they are used rather sparingly. (But when the humor does comes in, it is very funny.) Instead of making this a straight up farcical joke a minute comedy, Woody Allen goes for the serious History Channel vibe. At times I felt it a little tedious because while the concept is interesting, we obviously know it is not real, so I don't really need to know the exact details like I would in a real documentary. You know how some actors get criticized for playing the same role over and over? Well that is literally the case for Woody Allen. He basically just plays himself and Leonard Zelig may be the quintessential Allen character, an outsider who struggles to fit in.

Grade: B

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