Zelig (1983) - Rotten Tomatoes


Zelig (1983)



Critic Consensus: Wryly amusing, technically impressive, and ultimately thought-provoking, Zelig represents Woody Allen in complete command of his craft.

Zelig Photos

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 ability to take on the facial and vocal characteristics of whomever he happens to be around at the moment. He shows up at batting practice with Babe Ruth, among William Randolph Hearst's guests as San Simeon, side by side with Pope Pius at the Vatican, and peering anxiously over the shoulder of Adolf Hitler at the Nuremberg Rally. Becoming a celebrity in his own right, Zelig inspires a song, a dance craze, and a Warner Bros. biopic. Mia Farrow plays Dr. Eudora Fletcher , a psychiatrist who tries to "reach" Zelig and ultimately falls in love with him (all of Farrow's scenes are in black-and-white and allegedly culled from archive footage; Ellen Garrison, whose resemblance to Farrow is uncanny, plays the older Dr. Fletcher in the interview sequences). In the manner of Reds, the influence of the fictional Leonard Zelig on popular culture is discussed by such real-life notables as Susan Sontag, Irving Howe, Saul Bellow and Dr. Bruno Bettenheim.


Woody Allen
as Leonard Zelig
Mia Farrow
as Dr. Eudora Fletcher
Garrett M. Brown
as Actor Zelig
Stephanie Farrow
as Sister Meryl
John Buckwalter
as Dr. Sindell
Marvin Chatinover
as Glandular Diagnosis Doctor
Stanley Swerdlow
as Mexican Food Doctor
Paul Nevens
as Dr. Birsky
Howard Erskine
as Hypodermic Doctor
George Hamlin
as Experimental Drugs Doctor
Ralph Bell
as Other Doctor
Richard Whiting
as Other Doctor
Will Hussung
as Other Doctor
Robert Iglesia
as Man in Barber Chair
Eli Resnick
as Man in Park
Gale Hansen
as Freshman No. 1
Wendy Craig
as Herself
Michael Jeter
as Freshman No. 2
Peter McRobbie
as Workers Rally Speaker
Sol Lomita
as Martin Geist
Mary Louise Wilson
as Sister Ruth
Alice Beardsley
as Telephone Operator
Paula Trueman
as Woman at Telephone
Charles Denney
as Actor Doctor
Michael Kell
as Actor Koslow
Sharon Ferrol
as Miss Baker
Richard Litt
as Charles Koslow
John Rothman
as Paul Deghuee
Francis Beggins
as City Hall Speaker
Jean Trowbridge
as Dr. Fletcher's Mother
Ken Chapin
as On-Camera Interviewer
Gerald Klein
as Hearst Guest
Vincent Jerosa
as Hearst Guest
Deborah Rush
as Lita Fox
Stanley Simmonds
as Lita's Lawyer
Robert Berger
as Zelig's Lawyer
Jeanine Jackson
as Helen Gray
Erma Campbell
as Zelig's Wife
Anton Marco
as Wrist Victim
Louise Deitch
as House Painting Victim
Bernice Dowis
as Vilification Woman
John Doumanian
as Greek Waiter
Ed Lane
as Man on Telephone
Marianne Tatum
as Actress Fletcher
Will Holt
as Rally Chancellor
Cole Palen
as Zelig's Stunt Double
Pam Barber
as Fletcher's Stunt Double
Bernie Herold
as Carter Dean
Marshall Coles Sr.
as Calvin Turner
Ellen Garrison
as Older Doctor Fletcher
Jack Cannon
as Mike Geibell
Theodore R. Smits
as Ted Bierbauer
Sherman Loud
as Older Paul
Elizabeth Rothschild
as Older Sister Meryl
Susan Sontag
as Herself
Irving Howe
as Himself
Saul Bellow
as Himself
as Herself
Ed Herlihy
as Himself
Dwight Weist
as Himself
Gordon Gould
as Himself
Windy Craig
as Himself
Jurgen Kuehn
as Himself
View All

Critic Reviews for Zelig

All Critics (27) | Top Critics (6)

Zelig is certain to rank among the most talked-about movies of this or any season. It is the most innovative film yet from the fertile imagination of Woody Allen, who proves that despite a few misses along with hits, he is never dull.

October 25, 2018 | Full Review…

A sublime comic parable about the quest for identity.

May 1, 2017 | Full Review…

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 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…

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…

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 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

Zelig is small but it's one of those Allen comedies by which all his other films will be compared.

May 20, 2003

Audience Reviews for Zelig

A delightful, original and funny Woody Allen mockumentary that is most impressive due to Gordon Willis' spectacular cinematography and the technique employed to make it look like old film from the 1920s, with even the actors inserted into real archival footage from back then.

Carlos Magalhães
Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer


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."

Alice Shen
Alice Shen

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.

Chris Weber
Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

Zelig Quotes

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