Three months ago Behind The Screenplay posted an unusual YouTube essay. It caught my eye today. The thesis is that Woody Allen‘s Celebrity (’98) is an “unheralded masterpiece.”

I admired several things about Celebrity. Sven Nykivst‘s black-and-white cinematography, of course. I occasionally felt amused and invigorated by Leonardo DiCaprio‘s manic superstar behavior (partly his character as written, partly drawing from his own post-Titanic popularity). Donald Trump‘s droll little cameo about tearing down St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a decent chuckle. A lot of stuff works. Woody keeps trying and trying.

I was never bored and was somewhat taken with the flavor of Allen’s screenplay (i.e, forlorn acidity), and everyone loved the last shot. But otherwise Celebrity is less than masterful.

If only Woody had taken Kenneth Branagh aside before shooting and said, “You’ve obviously developed a half-decent imitation of my way of speaking — I respect that, it’s pretty good — but play this role as yourself. Use your own British accent. Playing me is too on the nose, critics won’t like it for that, and I wouldn’t blame them”

This in itself would’ve improved things considerably.

The other problem is the deflating drift of the thing. The repetitive moralizing. Branagh’s Lee Simon could be wry and sharp and self-aware in a fleeting, in-and-out way, but it was clear within the first 20 or 30 minutes that he was also overly anxious, obsequious and stricken with a lack of self-awareness.

After a while you knew the film had no intention of doing anything more than making sure that Lee Simon wasn’t going to experience an epiphany of any kind…that a breakthrough wasn’t in the cards

Todd McCarthy called the film “a once-over-lightly rehash of mostly stale Allen themes and motifs,” and noted that “the spectacle of Branagh and Judy Davis doing over-the-top Woody impersonations creates a neurotic energy meltdown…Branagh is simply embarrassing as he flails, stammers and gesticulates in a manner that suggests a direct imitation of Allen himself…Celebrity has a hastily conceived, patchwork feel that is occasionally leavened by some lively supporting turns and the presence of so many attractive people onscreen.”

By the way: The second syllable in Peter Biskind‘s last name is not pronounced like the second syllable in David Susskind‘s name.