Directed By: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Patrick Horgan
Trivia: The house in the closing scene is the same house used as the location for A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy
Woody Allen's extremely clever mockumentary tells the story of Leonard Zelig (played by Allen), an extraordinary man from the Roaring ’20s who has the ability to transform himself, as if he were a chameleon, to look exactly like those around him. These changes allow Zelig to take on the appearance of pretty much anyone, from a Rabbi to a Native American. The press considers him a fascinating oddity, and turn Zelig into something of a celebrity, yet there are those who believe his unique talents are masking some deep-seated personal problems, not the least of which is an overwhelming desire to fit in. As a result, Zelig undergoes psychiatric treatment, and has regular sessions with Dr. Eudora Fletcher (Mia Farrow). Initially, Dr. Fletcher’s interest in Zelig was purely professional, but before long, both doctor and patient are deeply in love with one another, which leads to a few unexpected complications.
Allen has crafted Zelig as if it were a straight-on documentary, creating “vintage” newsreel footage and adding a few camera tricks to make it look as if Zelig and Dr. Fletcher are standing alongside the likes of William Randolph Hearst, Herbert Hoover, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Allen had previously used the documentary approach in 1969’s Take the Money and Run, one of his earliest comedies, but his growth as a filmmaker allowed him to take the concept to a much higher level this time around, incorporating special effects and bringing a wonderful period feel to the film. There’s even a scene towards the end where Zelig, who had been missing for some time, shows up in Germany in a Nazi uniform, standing on-stage right next to Hitler! The moment he spots Dr. Fletcher in the crowd, he starts waving to her, disrupting the Fuhrer’s speech and causing all sorts of trouble. In a movie filled with ingenious moments, this is undoubtedly the most creative.
In relating the tale of Leonard Zelig, Allen makes a statement of his own about conformity, and how people will often go to great lengths, occasionally sacrificing their own beliefs and opinions, in order to fit in. Zelig, of course, takes this unfortunate reality to the extreme, giving us a person who alters his appearance as well as his views, but the message rings out loud and clear. That he’s able to make us laugh while conveying that message is a nice little bonus.