Film Review: ‘Zelig’


Woody Allen’s 1983 mockumentary Zelig – starring the great man himself in the mysterious title role and Mia Farrow as the geek-chic Dr. Eudora Nesbitt Fletcher – is a hilarious parody of both traditional documentary style and the celebrity culture of the 1920s. Zelig is a man of mystery, capable of shifting his appearance to suit the people he surrounds in order to fit in. Discovered by Dr. Fletcher, she endeavours to cure him of this strange illness and along the way falls in love with the lovable ‘chameleon man’.

Incorporated news reel footage edited with blue-screen technology to insert Allen and co. into the action makes for hilarious viewing; one hilarious scene shows Allen sitting behind Hitler in a rally as he attempts to communicate with the love of his life with all the wit and humour the director can provide. Allen went to great lengths to create an authentic feel to the film, even using antique cameras and scratching the celluloid to give that aged aesthetic. The archive footage itself is brilliantly edited to complement the plot, engaging famous figures of the 1920s including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Al Capone, Joseph Goebbels and Charles Lindbergh, weaving the mercurial Zelig in and out of history.

Allen’s Zelig is lovable, whilst equally pathetic; he is a non-identity that slowly learns what it means to be an individual. Such a sentiment could easily become trashy and schmaltzy, but Allen carefully hones the concept, never allowing it to give cause for cringing. The ability to be tender and comic is one of Allen’s most famous trademarks, but also worthy of note is the delicious cynicism he injects into almost every scene.

Allen’s movies will always endure, but Zelig stands out among a collection of world-class films – its irony, comedy, tenderness, and sheer brilliance remains supremely enjoyable. Whenever you’re feeling downhearted by his recent fair (excluding 2011’s Midnight in Paris, a clear return to form) return to a classic like Zelig and you will completely fall in love with his work once again.

Joe Walsh