Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"This is a film with more than just a clever gimmick."

Have you ever been talking to people from a different place and noticed your own accent start to shift? Have you found yourself keeping quiet about your opinions in order to fit in, perhaps to the point where you become less certain what you do believe? These things can happen to anyone, but for people who lack confidence or a strong sense of their own identities, they can be dramatic. For Leonard Zelig, the experience is so dramatic that even his physical body undergoes change.

The epitome of Woody Allen's neurotics, Zelig is a man with so little personality of his own, or so little belief in it, that any strong personality in someone else is overwhelming. At first it's about fitting in. Perhaps this remains the case for him. But as he becomes known to others, he is celebrated as a fascinating curiosity, the human chameleon of the roaring Twenties. Photographed, feted, and with half a dozen different psychoanalysts trying to cure him, he faces an even greater struggle to live a normal life - or to find love.

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Structured as a pseudo-documentary, this is a film with more than just a clever gimmick. Its special effects, not only in altering Allen's appearance but in integrating him into numerous film clips from the period, were stunning in their time and still look good today. There's sharp political satire and black humour. It's as erudite as any of Allen's work, playfully exploring the popular philosphies of the period, then veering into darker territory as Zelig flirts with Nazism, blending in to survive as some Jews did in real life. Mia Farrow's devoted psychiatrist strives to understand her peculiar patient, but if he should be cured, wouldn't he lose the thing that makes him unique?

Intelligent and inventive throughout, Zelig doesn't quite have a strong enough human story to hold the whole thing together, but considering the scale of what it takes on, it acquits itself very well indeed. It's an essential curiosity for Allen fans and a pleasure for any lover of unusual films.

Reviewed on: 14 Dec 2011
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Pseudo-documentary charting the story of a man whose physical appearance changes so he resembles those around him.
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Director: Woody Allen

Writer: Woody Allen

Starring: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Patrick Horgan, John Buckwalter

Year: 1983

Runtime: 79 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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