“A Jew that could turn himself into a Negro or an Indian was a triple threat.”
In 1920s America, a mentally disturbed man named Leonard Zelig (Woody Allen) gains notoriety for his chameleon-like ability to adapt both his appearance and his personality to whoever he’s with. When Dr. Eudora Fletcher (Mia Farrow) tries to help Zelig overcome his disorder, the two eventually fall in love — but Zelig’s past actions soon catch up with him, and their happiness is compromised.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Mia Farrow Films
- Multiple Personalities
- Woody Allen Films
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary labels this “bizarre one-joke satire” by Woody Allen “consistently funny” and “technically brilliant”, but is reticent in his praise, arguing that it “never rises to a higher level” — yet his assessment ultimately does an injustice to the brilliance of Allen’s comedic vision here. While the technical aspects of Zelig are justifiably lauded (the insertion of Zelig into real historical footage — done manually, not digitally — is seamless), the story itself remains enjoyable through repeated viewings, and has held up remarkably well. Allen neatly satirizes the titillating disorder of multiple personalities, with Zelig’s story containing notable parallels to 1976’s Sybil, given that Zelig’s female psychologist — just like Sybil’s — persists in her highly personalized efforts to cure her patient, despite scorn and disdain from the male establishment. Whether or not you’re a Woody Allen fan, this satisfying comedy (which, it should be noted, predates Christopher Guest et al.’s cult mockumentaries) should be seen and enjoyed by all film fanatics.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Gordon Willis’s masterful cinematographic effects
- Allen’s witty screenplay, with plenty of his classic one-liners: “I teach a course on masturbation, and if I’m late, they start without me.”
- Zelig’s remarkable physical transformations
Yes, as one of Woody Allen’s enduring comedy classics.
- Important Director
- Oscar Winner or Nominee