Woody Allen is a very polarizing figure in Hollywood, especially during these past few decades where his status as a legendary filmmaker has been constantly shadowed by rumors and allegations of despicable deeds involving his underage adopted children. Until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt, I feel I have the ability to objectively review his work without severe bias. With that big ass elephant in the room acknowledged, I can now officially start my review of Allen’s latest, Café’ Society. Here it goes; if you like Woody Allen movies, you’ll probably dig this one too. If you’re not really into his stuff, I promise you won’t find anything here that’ll change your mind. What more is there to say? It’s a Woody Allen film. You know what you’re getting into; it should be obvious after all these years, right? Your main character is going to be uncomfortably neurotic, Jewish, he’ll fall in love with the wrong girl, and he’ll end the movie relatively unchanged and still maladjusted and dreadfully miserable.
“…Eisenberg is insufferable in his pathetic attempt at imitating Woody Allen’s trademark speech pattern, posture, and neurosis…”
It was cool when I first saw this shtick in Annie Hall, but nothing has kept me interested since. Do I hate Woody Allen? Not at all, I recognize some consider him to be God’s gift to cinema. Some of the greatest actors of all time have jumped at the chance to work with him in lieu of his talents and work. He’s been consistently writing, directing, producing, and (up until fairly recently) starring in his own films almost on a yearly basis since mid-1960’s. That’s fucking insane. I haven’t even mentioned his time as a stand-up comedian, his myriad of stage plays, and his accomplishments as a Jazz musician yet. You have to respect the man’s talent, ridiculous work ethic, and superhuman ability to feverishly create his own content and art, but alas, he’s just never been my cup of tea. I’m not his audience, and I admittedly do not understand his audience.
Café’ Society stars Jesse Eisenberg as Bobby Dorfman and takes place in the 1930’s. Bobby is the nephew of Phil, a powerful talent agent in Hollywood (played by Steve Carell). Bobby attempts to use nepotism in order to get a solid foothold into the entertainment industry. After moving to Los Angeles, Bobby falls in love with Phil’s secretary, Veronica, nicknamed Vonnie (played by Kristen Stewart) despite the fact that she already has a mysterious boyfriend. Through a comedy of errors, Bobby discovers that Veronica’s secret lover is actually his Uncle Phil. There’s a subplot involving Bobby’s older brother Ben being a criminal, but really it’s minor to the main story despite featuring an enjoyable performance by Corey Stoll, and if it wasn’t for Stoll’s acting it wouldn’t even merit a mention. Bobby, heartbroken over his recent discovery, moves back to New York and begins a consolation relationship with Blake Lively’s character, also named Veronica. Blake Lively hands down is the weak link in this film, and she came dangerously close to putting me to sleep whenever she popped up on screen. She has the charisma of a heavily sedated sloth.
“The film’s camera movements really channeled old school golden age cinema and wonderfully complimented the story’s setting and time period.”
It’s now a recurring trend in Woody Allen films for actors to take on Allen’s mannerisms and eccentricities. If I had to guess why, it’s because Woody Allen still wants to be the star of his films without actually being the star of his films. This habit really started happening amidst the resurfacing of his past sexually deviant and pedophiliac accusations. This is purely speculation, but it seemed Allen has shied away from on camera roles since 2013’s Fading Gigolo, shortly before Mia Farrow infamously and very publicly blasted him after he was awarded the Cecil B. DeMille award at the 2014 Golden Globes. Although Woody Allen doesn’t appear on screen in Café Society, he does serve as the film’s narrator. Going back to the cast, Eisenberg is insufferable in his pathetic attempt at imitating Woody Allen’s trademark speech pattern, posture, and neurosis, however, I thought that Kristen Stewart was mesmerizingly wonderful in her role as Vonnie. Steve Carell turns in a layered performance, and commands the screen during all of his scenes. His character goes from confident and tough businessman to cowardly lover unable to commit almost in the same breath. Corey Stoll had the funniest bits in the entire movie; I just wish he had more to do in the story.
One thing I do want to draw attention to is Vittorio Storaro, the cinematographer. The film’s camera movements really channeled old school golden age cinema and wonderfully complimented the story’s setting and time period. Café’ Society looked and felt like a classic Hollywood film. From the slow camera movements to the steady dolly shots and the warm, effervescent colors, everything felt authentic and helped serve the story. There’s not a lot of film’s these days that do away with the needlessly fancy and gimmicky camera tricks, and it was damned good to see something that was simplistic and subtle. The editing is also sharp and quick; the film rarely feels like it’s dragging visually or plot wise. I feel like the dialogue is weak on account that no human being on the face of this earth at any point in history has ever talked like any of these characters talk. It’s beyond cartoony and the script dives straight into parody.
I’m sure fans of Allen’s work will herald it as another classic in a ridiculously long list of classics, but to me it’s another Woody Allen movie full of predictable and annoying tropes and quirks. Jesse Eisenberg is one of my least favorite actors who unjustly keeps finding work, but the rest of the cast (with the added exception of the extraordinarily boring Blake Lively) will, at the very least, keep you entertained. While it didn’t resonate with me, I can still acknowledge that it’s not a terrible film, and it will find its audience who will no doubt love it, but to me it’s just another Woody Allen flick in a sea of Woody Allen flicks that are becoming more and more homogenous as the years go by. I’d only recommend it to diehard fans.
Café’ Society (2016) Written and Directed by: Woody Allen. Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Steve Carell, Kristen Stewart, Corey Stoll, Blake Lively, Sheryl Lee, Woody Allen.
6 out of 10