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Zelig (1983)

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No Score Yet...

Average Rating: N/A
Critic Reviews: 2
Fresh: 2 | Rotten: 0

audience

88

liked it
Average Rating: 3.9/5
User Ratings: 17,870

My Rating

Movie Info

Leonard Zelig, the "human chameleon", is profiled in this mock-documentary. Director Woody Allen appears as Zelig in scenes that purport to be vintage newsreel clips of the 1920s and 1930s, but are actually clever recreations, "aged" and scratched-up Citizen Kane-style by special-effects maestros Joel Hynick, Stuart Robinson and R. Greenberg Associates. An appropriately pompous narrator details the life and times of Leonard Zelig, whose overwhelming desire for conformity is manifested in his

PG,

Comedy

Woody Allen

Nov 6, 2001

Warner Home Video

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All Critics (22) | Top Critics (3) | Fresh (21) | Rotten (0) | DVD (11)

Lampooning documentary tradition by structuring the entire film as a meticulously crafted bogus docu, Woody Allen tackles some serious stuff en route

July 7, 2010 Full Review Source: Variety
Variety
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The comedy tends to the smirk-inducing rather than the laugh-out-loud, and the second half wanders somewhat, but Zelig is a strong contender for Allen's most fascinating film.

June 24, 2006 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
Top Critic IconTop Critic

A masterpiece: a brilliant, even passionate historical pastiche, a superbly pregnant meditation on American society and individuality, and an eerie fantasy that will live in your dreams.

December 22, 2011 Full Review Source: Guardian
Guardian

Woody Allen's Zelig (1983) perfected the fake documentary a year before This Is Spinal Tap.

September 8, 2007 Full Review Source: Combustible Celluloid
Combustible Celluloid

Hilarious Woody Allen vehicle, a mockumentary with special effects ahead of its time.

December 8, 2006
Dispatch-Tribune Newspapers

Allen is one of the most recognizable, and least protean, performers.... [P]erhaps ... someone else as Zelig ... could have got the idea across without the blandly explicit dialogue and brought more dimensions to the role, besides.

January 17, 2006 Full Review Source: Blogcritics.org
Blogcritics.org

Woody Allen's comedy about a self-effacing man, who swiftly changes identities is original, clever, droll, and extremely well shot by ace lenser Gordon Willis.

July 2, 2005 Full Review Source: EmanuelLevy.Com
EmanuelLevy.Com

Brilliant early film of the woodman shows his creative genius as a filmmaker.

July 31, 2004 | Comments (3)
Denton Record Chronicle (TX)

Mildly amusing one-joke move.

February 24, 2004 Full Review Source: Ozus' World Movie Reviews
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

...a fairly entertaining little movie...for a while, anyway.

July 25, 2003 Full Review Source: Reel Film Reviews
Reel Film Reviews

Clever, but a 20 minute idea stretched to feature length.

December 1, 2002 | Comments (4)
Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)

Absurd and fascinating at the same time.

October 14, 2001 Full Review Source: Filmcritic.com
Filmcritic.com

Audience Reviews for Zelig

This mockumentary about a human chameleon who is able to change race, appearance, and professional demeanor at will is rather clever with the "archive footage," the smoooth 'n smarmy radio-voiced "narrator," and the "cameo interviews" with actual famous literati, but the movie tips on the tightrope of Woody Allen's slapstick inanity and Woody Allen's in-depth human analysis without ever transcending to the latter.

I'm not one for blanket political correctness, but if you're gonna use blackface and slant-eyed make-up, you've gotta say something narratively relevant and not just treat it as a gag. There's so much social and cultural critique to be mined for both smart comedy and introspective pathos: people's prejudices toward different races, the knowledge of one's own race as the Other, the oftentimes unquestioned authority of those in respected professions, et cetera.

The fictional Dr. Eudora Fletcher states that to the untrained observer, Zelig's faux-psychiatrist sounds realistic, but he's really just deploying cliched lingo. It would follow that Zelig adopts different stereotypical speech patterns for different races or classes, but all of this "research" is presented in silent "archive footage," not some tour de force bit of spoof acting like Robert Downey Jr.'s in "Tropic Thunder." Nothing changes within Woody or Zelig to actually BECOME or even inhabit another personality, which is sadly unsurprising since Woody Allen seems incapable of playing anyone other than Woody Allen. (And anyway, mimicking Dr. Fletcher is technically a plothole because Zelig's chameleonic power doesn't work with or on women.)

Without grounding in what it actually means to "pass" as a different race, class, or other distinction, this lightweight premise and execution is almost as insulting as Woody's blind man bit in "Hollywood Ending."
June 1, 2014
aliceinpunderland

Super Reviewer

Review coming soon.
August 20, 2013
spielberg00

Super Reviewer

This is Woody Allen's funny, offbeat, and really cleverly hilarious mockumentary about Leonard Zelig, the "human chameleon"- a man with a multiple personality disorder so bad, he compulsively transforms into anyone that he is near.

The bulk of the film is shot in the style of 1920s/30s newsreels, and follows Leonard through history as he does everything from show up to batting practive with Babe Ruth, appear at the Vatican with Pope Pius and stand behind Hitler at the Nuremberg Rally. Basically, this film pioneered the same concept and special effects later used to great effect and acclaim by Robert Zemeckis with Forrest Gump.

This film is a lot funnier, more clever, and more zany, though. Besides his antics with mimicking people and showing up at various historical events, Zelig becomes a celebrity in his own right, and, while being treated and cured by Dr. Eudora Fletcher, he falls in love.

This is a brisk, funny, very sweet, and terrific film. I loved the ideas and the execution. At a running time of 80 somehting minutes though, this feels really slight and the style seems to overrun the substance. The film does get slightly beneath the surface though, so it's not all fluff. It's not one of Woody's best, but I'd put it near the top of his B-Sides.
May 20, 2012
cosmo313
Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

My mind has now been blown by Woody Allen. I mean, I have always liked him. Yet, this film makes me feel as though I am only beginning to scratch the surface of Allen's creativity. The fact that this was made in the 80's only serves to impressive me even more. The special effects are incredibly well done and this film succeeded in looking like a collage of film stock from the 20's. The film may lose steam in the middle, but the impression is likely to stay with you forever. A wholly unique and mesmerizing experience.
November 15, 2011
axadntpron
Reid Volk

Super Reviewer

    1. Leonard Zelig: I have an interesting case. I'm treating two sets of Siamese twins with split personalities. I'm getting paid by eight people.
    – Submitted by Dan J (21 months ago)
View all quotes (1)

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