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copyright ©1999-2001

flick pick | Zelig 1983
Directed + written by: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under:
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something:
nostalgic, true?!?,  witty
The critic says: ½/ 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: / 5 

Plot synopsis In the era of speakeasies and big band jazz, America’s abuzz with talk of Leonard Zelig, the "human chameleon," so nicknamed for a bizarre medical condition that enables him to take on the characteristics – even physical – of whatever group of people happens to surround him at any given time. Leonard’s affliction is the result of a psychological disorder – compelled by the need to be accepted by everyone, he becomes all things to all people. Living in Chinatown, he takes on Asian facial characteristics and begins talking in Chinese; in a group of fat men, he balloons up to twice his size. (His abilities are, however, limited to human male forms only, as attempts by scientists to turn Zelig into a woman or a chicken prove fruitless). The journalists love him (it’s a story so fantastic they don’t even have to lie!); the philosophers adore him (he can signify whatever they want him to signify!) … and sure the KKK wants him lynched (a Jew who can transform himself into a Chinese man or an African American – he’s a triple threat!), but the rest of the nation, even the world, just can’t seem to get enough of Leonard Zelig (he even inspires a dance craze, "the Chameleon.") But though everyone has an interest in Zelig the celebrity, there’s only one person out there who cares about helping the real Leonard Zelig come out from beneath his ever-changing shell. And that’s psychiatrist Eudora Fletcher, who initially takes on Zelig as a patient, but ends up falling in love with him.

Review I’ve always, always loved Woody Allen, but in the last few years – starting with1997’s Deconstructing Harry I suppose  – it’s been hard to remember exactly why. But then I revisit an old favorite – Sleeper, Annie Hall, The Purple Rose of Cairo … or as was the case most recently, Zelig. Zelig might be one of the lesser-known Allen gems, but this very charming mock-documentary shows all the intelligence and wit, hilarity and sweet romance, comedic inventiveness and pure magic that are Woody Allen at his very best. To begin with, there’s the sheer delight of seeing Zelig/Allen appearing in 1920s and 30s news footage, standing side-by-side with real historical personalities – F. Scott Fitzgerald, Lou Gehrig, Josephine Baker, even Hitler (in a rather amusing scene in which Zelig suddenly realizes that he’s not, in fact, a Nazi fascist). It’s a brilliant technical feat, accomplished way before Robert Zemeckis did it digitally in Forrest Gump, and it’s a large part of why Zelig is so convincing as a fake documentary. But technical wizardry aside, there’s the fact that there’s a little part of you that really wants to believe that Zelig is real. There’s something so touching about a hero that manages to overcome that pathetic, but very human, need to conform for the sake of acceptance, that it’s nice to pretend that Zelig’s not just a figment of a filmmaker’s imagination. Clever camera tricks and zingy one-liners aside, Zelig, like its title character, actually hides behind a façade. It might be dressed like a historical documentary, or rather, a perfect parody of one – but beneath it all, Zelig’s an irresistible fairy tale at heart. —reviewed by Y. Sun   

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