Zelig / Woody Allen / 1983 / threestar

Active Ingredients: Different film styles; Pensive, not preachy
Side Effects: Scattershot presentation; Mixed results

Zelig has elements of a lot of things – newsreels, documentaries, talking heads, staged scenes – but it doesn’t always resemble a movie. Like its title character, Zelig is a shape-sifting chameleon, and just when you think it’s taken its true form, it changes again. The surprise is mostly a good thing, but the film can be so hard to pin down that its many different elements never coalesce into much more than smoke and mirrors.

The film is a brief 79 minutes, and it wastes no time hurdling into the life story of a man so longing of acceptance that he literally morphs to better emulate those around him. Woody Allen shows ingenuity in his collage of filmic forms, but things like narration, grainy footage and character interviews keep his comedy distant. The film is interesting, then, more for its pleasingly vague philosophy than for its humor. Zelig could turn into anything, but he always remained a mere curio.