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There is a lot going against this movie. Jesse Eisenberg's character comes off as a complete asshole within 10 minutes of the film, thanks to a really terrible scene between him and a Jewish hooker. None of the humor in that scene landed, which just made the situation really sad and uncomfortable to watch, and then kind of difficult to root for Eisenberg at all after that. Steve Carell isn't bad by any means, but he seems incredibly miscast in a role like this (not to say that he can't act in roles that are more serious, but this Hollywood film executive didn't really suit him). Both of the Dorfman parents come off as really awkward on screen and thus kill any of the jokes that they're meant to deliver. The only actor that gives a notable performance in this movie is Corey Stoll as the brother, but it's not enough. Kristin Stewart was mostly fine, but occasionally started picking up some of her infamous Kristin Stewartisms throughout. Carell and Eisenberg become really close out of nowhere, both of the couples' relationships are sped up by Woody Allen's narration (which doesn't really add anything to this film), and this movie is only 90 minutes long, so I feel as if they could have definitely spent more time with all of these relationships, instead of just having Woody tell us what was happening. And on top of all of this, while this is a beautiful film to look at, there is nothing new in this movie. It's another Woody Allen movie with the same romances and love triangles centered around white people who like jazz with a pretty inconclusive and unsatisfying ending.
Set in the 1930s, a young Bronx native moves to Hollywood where he
falls in love with the secretary of his powerful uncle, an agent to the
stars. after returning to New York he is swept up in the vibrant world
of high society nightclub life.
Café Society opened this year Cannes Film Festival and is the latest film directed by Woody Allen. It's a story that mixes various parts of the Allen back catalogue to varying degrees of success. A film that wants more than anything to entertain. In many ways Café Society could be said to restate almost all of the key ideas and themes of Woody Allen's films in one way or another: life, chance, fate, love and guilt.
It also comes from the movie providing the performances. Jesse Eisenberg is so seamlessly cast as the prototypical Allen protagonist that when the film shift from Allen's voice over to Bobby speaking it feels continuous. Bobby's broken heart has caused him to undergo a Bogartian growing up: from a gauche boy to a mature disillusioned man, trapped in the wrong marriage. Moreover, Kristen Stewart sad eyes, throaty delivery and slightly heartbreaking aura make her almost interesting, ad an easy chemistry between her and her third-time co-star Jesse Eisenberg and he fits perfectly into his role while she simply overflows the screen.
But if Café Society is Allen quoting Allen, sometimes literally, at least he's quoting his better bits. Surprise comes from the movie providing the honeyed cinematography by V. Storaro which uses silhouette, graphic compositions and glowing close ups in an often genuinely breathtaking manner. "Life is comedy, but it's one written by a sadistic comedy writer" says Bobby. The comedy writer Allen on display here is more wistful and nostalgic for the very concept of unfulfilled true love, for the heyday of the Hollywood star system, for a New-York of gangsters and back alley craps game and stolen kisses at dawn in Central Park. And all of that nostalgia is okay. Because we were getting pretty nostalgic for the good odd days of warm, witty, fond and funny Woody Allen too.
Make no mistake Café Society is still late-period Allen. Men are described in terms of their characters and complications, while women are still described in terms of their beauty and their effect on said men. When Blake Lively's character motherhood becomes the butt of an exchange between two men, about how women who become mothers devote way too much time to their children (and ultimately not enough to their husband); it's a sour note that reminds us that Bad Allen is always there, underneath.
Overall, this film is Woody Allen's most charming film since Midnight in Paris and maybe most beautiful to look at, maybe ever. It's a little pretty little reminder of what once was
Woody Allen's latest, which opened yesterday in Paris and at the Cannes Festival, is a gentle and thoughtful examination of love. Jesse Eisenberg, best known for his portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, plays Bobby, a young New Yorker who heads out to Hollywood in search of an exciting future. He falls for Vonnie (Kristin Stewart of Twilight fame), the secretary of his Uncle Phil (Steve Carell), a successful producer, and is soon confronted with the fact that she has a mysterious lover. The resulting confusion is worthy of Allen's mentor, Anton Chekhov. In an interview in the French magazine l'Obs, Allen remembers his own experience in Hollywood, talking to a producer who cut him off to take a call from Fred Astaire. We soon meet all of the rest of Bobby's family, including a gangster brother and a sister who is married to an intellectual, who offers such wisdom as the quotation, "Live every day like it's your last and some day you'll be right." With brilliant cinematography by Vittorio Storaro and great performances from Eisenberg, Carell and Stewart, the film is one of Allen's most enjoyable in years. The poster features a stylized profile of a woman with a teardrop - love always includes an element of sadness, even as it brings laughter and self-realization. A French review of the Cannes opening compares Allen to Ernst Lubitsch, master of urbane comedies of manners in the 1930's.
Woody Allen cannot make a quality film every single year. He just
can't. But even in his lesser efforts, the movie is always about
something, whether it be a dramatic (or comedic) focus on damaged
characters or maybe another of his many stabs at existentialism. In the
case of "Café Society," I was confused about Woody's intent since the
film is not funny, nor is it thought-provoking or really even
True, we have Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg), another one of Allen's coming-of-age protagonists from New York who brings his youthful naïveté to Hollywood of the 1930s. Bobby commands most of the screen time, but Allen did not infuse Bobby with any endearing or charismatic qualities.
For scene after scene, I found the character to be so bland and pointless that I could not root for him. Instead, we just wait for the next moment of plot to come dropping on the character's head while the new-found glamour of Hollywood surrounds him.
Further, Allen's scattershot script tries to include his oft-used device of a love triangle, and the one in this film is among his most muddled. We know that Bobby is the type who'll easily succumb to the charms/skirts of his Uncle Phil's secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), and when we find out that Vonnie's boyfriend is really Uncle Phil himself (Steve Carell), we know someone's heart is going to broken by somebody in this trio.
But when Allen's script has Phil shifting his love from his wife to Vonnie, then from Vonnie back to his wife, then back to Vonnie again, we ask the question of ... why? It's not made clear to me. Consequently, it's a triangle where no one cares who's paired with who before long. And Carell's portrayal of Phil cannot make him a character we care about, as he is just as yawn-inducing as Bobby.
I also kept asking "why" when I saw the story abruptly changing focus to show us Bobby's brother Ben and his gangster ties in New York. In a curious plot deviation, we see Ben assisting with a murder plot of a mean-and-mad next-door neighbor to help two characters in the film, then later going to the electric chair for it. Again, the inclusion of this character felt so randomized, I kept wondering why we are supposed to care.
If there's a redeeming quality to this whole mess, it's the film's visual appeal. The costuming, the sets and the cinematography are all Oscar-worthy in their authenticity. Allen clearly was trying to make a piece of nostalgia here, and the LOOK of the film is simply breath-taking.
His other attempts to wax nostalgic just don't shine. Yes, we hear a parade of famous names, such as Joan Crawford, Paul Muni, Adolphe Menjou, and Barbara Stanwyck, but there's hardly anything substantive; as if sheer name-dropping by Allen would suffice to create a loving tribute to the 1930s.
Allen, at his worst, still makes films that try to do ... something. In other words, Allen does not seek to get rich off his movies by selling the masses the commercialized movie brainlessness that makes billions in box office sales. He genuinely tries to portray ideas, comedics or characters that are worthy of our attention.
That's why "Café Society" is completely baffling to me. I know Allen was trying to accomplish something. Very frequently, Woody is out to make a thought-provoking film, no doubt about it.
But I don't think the bewilderment that's plaguing my mind are the thoughts he wanted to provoke.
Director/writer Woody Allen's latest film can be seen as one of his
most personal films to date. Dialed to the bright, nostalgic feel of
Radio Days (1987), Cafe Society nevertheless reels from an undercurrent
of existential authenticity a la Husbands and Wives (1992) poetically
and often ruefully addressing the feeling of having lost the road not
Our protagonist is young up-and-comer Bobby Dorfman (Eisenberg), a New Yorker, whose dreams of making it in Hollywood rests uneasily over some very scrawny shoulders. At first he's aided by his Uncle Phil (Carell), an agent and powerhouse among the coastal elite. He sets him up as an assistant and script-reader. Bobby's family dutifully keeps tabs on him back in New York as he climbs the slippery ladder of Hollywood's well-to-do, finding friends in Steve (Schneider) and Rad Taylor (Posey) who have a hand in controlling the talent pipeline from coast to coast. His closest friend and eventual paramour however is Vonnie (Stewart) a comparatively down to earth secretary who would rather bask in the glow of the warm sun then in glitzy opulence. He idolizes her, pines for her despite her insistence that she has a boyfriend; an older man as we later find out.
Woody Allen himself provides the narration for this gentle nostalgia tour through Golden Age Hollywood. Much like his voice, the film feels warm, familiar if sadly slow and blunted. Lacking the consistently snappy tone of earlier works, Cafe Society leans a little too heavily on the love triangle, which granted, captures some excellent drama but is singed from overcooking. When we are rewarded with the usual delights of Allen's repertoire, it all comes out banal, like a list of axioms repeated one too many times.
Yet despite lacking the verbal excitement of Allen's prized filmography, Cafe Society more than delivers in gorgeous cinematography, characterization and themes which are glamorously brought to life by a talented cast. Steve Carell's natural amiability allows us to more easily welter in Phil's more unsavory character decisions which includes having his nephew wait in the waiting room of his office for weeks. He's an agent but he lacks the boorishness of Ari Gold. He believes in what he's selling, and given the way he name- drops by the poolside and the fondness industry insiders seem to have for him, you can tell he's good at what he does. Jesse Eisenberg brings the same frazzled nudnik buoyancy he previously brought to Allen's To Rome with Love (2012). It's easy to see why Eisenberg is a repeated player, the man brings all the trappings of Woody's old characters only with a slightly stronger edge.
If there's one standout however it would have to be Kristen Stewart who resists being the flavorless object of affection. Goodness knows it could have been easy given the time period of the film (not to mention her previous role in the Twilight Series (2008-2012)), but her strident autonomy keeps us invested. She's a piece of Citrine amid fool's gold, a girl next door above the ostentatiousness of industry fugazi. A girl to bring home to mamma.
Much of Bobby's character develops between the intoxicating glamour of Hollywood and the provocative corruptibility of New York City. The dichotomy has a night and day quality that is mirrored by the earthy Vonnie and the glittering Veronica (Lively) who appears later in the film. Large swaths of the movie take place in the Big Apple, much of which concentrates on the foibles of Bobby's sister (Lennick), brother-in-law (Kunken) and mobster brother (Stoll). Far from being unnecessary asides, these stories aptly meld into the film's large themes: love, respect and regret.
With the denseness of a novel and the light touch of Allen's finest, a question the emerges; what is the director trying to tell us through this story? Bobby's balance between the two cities he calls home, mimics Woody Allen's long, illustrious trajectory as a member of the New York intelligentsia and a Hollywood staple. Perhaps he's trying to tell us our problems may seem significant to us and every choice we make means another choice has been deferred, yet in the grand scheme of things, life is ultimately a comedy.
The plot of the latest Allen's movie is your basic love triangle, set
in the 30s and with a small twist. Eisenberg and Stewart play the two
young lovers, Bobby and Vonnie, who meet in Hollywood, where Bobby
moved from New York.
Bobby's uncle, Phil, is a big shot in the movie industry and Bobby is looking for a job. Vonnie is Phil's secretary and part of her job is to make Bobby feel at home. After a few months, Bobby realizes is not happy on the West Coast, but he is in love with Vonnie.
Bobby proposes to Vonnie and asks her to move to New York with him. But she has a "secret" lover, who also proposes. Bobby moves back to New York alone, to work in his gangster's brother night club. The denouement of their love story is melancholic.
I am not a fan of Stewart, but her part required some aloofness and mystery and she did a good job - whether because she is a good actress or because her range is limited to playing cold and detached I cannot say. Also, the movie offers some classic Allen's punchlines, about life, its meaning or lack thereof. The voice-over did not disturbed me a bit and, as usual, the soundtrack is fabulous. Since I start to feel Allen's nostalgia for the past, this movie fulfilled all my expectations.
If you like Allen's movies, you will probably like this one, too. It is nostalgic but not sentimental and elegant in an old-fashioned way.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
For me, seeing a Woody Allen movie is like spending an evening with an
old friend. It's something to look forward to, because you know each
other well and the two of you go back a long time. You know what the
conversation topics are going to be, because he has his favourite
subjects and lately he seldom talks about anything else. But that's
alright, because he knows a lot about those things and is an expert in
making nice conversation. Some evenings you spend together are more
memorable than others, but it's always nice to see each other.
Seeing Café Society was no exception. This was Woody Allen as we know him: jazz music, New York, a socially awkward lead character, jokes about being Jewish, complicated love affairs - all those typical elements were there. The story is not even the most important part of the movie - it's about a love triangle set in 1930's Hollywood and New York, and about people betraying their own ideals only because they get older. It's entertaining, intelligent and elegant cinema.
During the years, Woody Allen seems to have perfected his style. He is like a chef with a legendary signature dish: the taste hardly varies, but it's always delicious.
Jesse Eisenberg, playing the classic Woody part, and Kristen Stewart as his love interest are adequate. They don't stand out as Cate Blanchett did in Blue Jasmine, but are quite believable as two lovers who ultimately marry the wrong partner. The thirties setting is nice: the way Allen and his cinematographer capture the elegance of the period is a joy to watch.
F. It is a complete failure. Hands down, the worst film he's ever made. Embarrassing. Pathetic. 713 cinematic clichés strung together almost at random, many of them ones he himself coined 40 years ago. Here are the same jokes perpetrating Jewish stereotypes, harping mothers, facial characteristics, Spinoza, waffling intellectuals, the same unattainable romantic ingenues falling unbelievably for a schlep (two in this case), the same pristine crowd-free dusky Manhattan skylines, now visible perhaps only in three locations if a filmmaking permit is granted, the same madcap scenes thrown in to distract from a weak, predictable story to keep you awake at Woody's arthritic nostalgia party, the same visually untranslatable but wholly textual old jokes. Here is Jesse Eisenberg looking almost - and sounding exactly - like a young Woody, a mannered performance, no doubt another of the director's self-worshipping tongue-in- cheek inside-seeking jokes. If that doesn't work, there's Woody himself opening the film and interrupting it every so often in a weary, zombie-like voice-over sounding oddly like Al Sharpton to explain to the viewer the point of what his writing and editing is incapable of realizing. Poor Woody has become a senile old man playing chopsticks on an out-of-tune piano, trapped in his own legend and incapable of a single new idea. If you remember Woody's great films, do yourself a big favor and don't see this: it'll be almost impossible to remember him well afterwards. It's sad to see great artists - and there are others - compulsively make fools of themselves late in life. Someone needs to rescue his dignity from his overpowering myopia, or he may crash into the mirror and cut himself badly. Allen's strong suit has never been self-awareness, only self- consciousness. Here is a film that surely almost everyone over 70 living within two blocks of East 70th Street and 3rd Avenue in Manhattan can relate to. There must be dozens. Think Grandpa in Depends crashing your teenage daughter's pajama party.
At eighty years young, Woody Allen delivers his forty-sixth (yup, you
read that right) feature film with Café Society; a bourbon basked
narrative feature showcasing the wonderfully vibrant jazz era of the
1930's, where the magic of the movies is very much alive; nightclubs
are bustling with life, traces of the gangster underworld are closer
than ever and love is a feeling as whimsical as ever in a parallel tale
spanning from Hollywood to New York City.
After forty-six films, you would think, with a director and writer as aged as most of our grandparents, the dialogue and writer of such an iconic filmmaker would lose his touch, but Allen proves his newest feature is as fresh, fun and fantastic as could be. Self-aware and self-absorbed as ever, the auteur extraordinaire showcases some of his most subtle and subdued screenplay to date, focusing mostly on performance from his very young cast and indulging in the beauty of a lively era within the very social elite of Hollywood and New York City.
Like any good Allen film, the story follows a very unsure and adventurous young man by the name of Bobby Dorfman, played perfectly by the nerdy and always lovable Jesse Eisenberg. Bobby, who has chosen for a change of scenery from his native New York City life, decides to chance life on a whim, and join his highly successful and famed uncle Phil Stern (Steve Carell), a Hollywood agent and grande opportunist for a lavish life in Hollywood. Reluctant to really give his nephew a chance, Uncle Phil caves and leaves Bobby in the hands of his angelic and innocently beautiful secretary and assistant Vonnie, played elegantly by Kristen Stewart. Taken by her beauty at first site, Bobby and Vonnie begin experiencing the city of angels through the eyes of glamour and glitz, essentially discrediting the city and its inhabitants as a whole, and wishing for a life that is half Hollywood, and half urban paradise.
As the relationship between Vonnie and Bobby intensifies, despite Vonnie having a secretive relationship with another married man, the two share some of the most memorable meet-cute dates seen this year on screen.
The heart of Café Society relies heavily on the relationship and chemistry between Eisenberg and Stewart, who, luckily for audiences, have played love interests twice before in Adventureland and American Ultra. By now, while watching Café Society, one of the most frustrating elements of the film is why the two stars haven't began dating outside of the narrative of the films they star in. Eisenberg's quirk matched with the mysteriousness and nonchalant attitude of Stewart, make the two and quintessential non-Hollywood/Hollywood couple.
As life complicates itself, as all matters of the heart do, Bobby soon finds himself back in the big Apple, eventually succumbing to his big brother Ben (Corey Stoll) and managing a somewhat legitimate business in Le Tropical, a nightclub owned by Ben, among other very illegal and gangster business endeavours. Stoll, who dons a full head of hair as the fiery and ruthless gangster brother to Bobby, brings forth the charm and wit he did as Ernest Hemingway in Allen Midnight In Paris. An Allen alum, Stoll provides the film with some of its most expected comedy, yet is pitch-perfect as the tough guy older brother who knows no life other than the life of the streets.
Allen, who uses many of the same actors over in his films, Stoll twice, Eisenberg twice, Posey, Sirico and company, relies on his actors to deliver some of his most entertaining, fun and light-hearted material to date. Café Society is a fun, summerlicious filled romantic comedy with perfect instances of quirky dialogue and narrative that uses the beautiful jazz music as a mosaic of forbidden love and second chances.
While Café Society may not be the huge commercial success of other summer blockbuster films, the film is easily one of my favourite films of the year, delivering a true cinematically entrancing experience, much like Allen's Midnight In Paris.
If there is one thing I would recommend this summer season, its to make sure to watch this film by any means necessary. Café Society proves again that, like many good comedies, most are written by sadistic comedy writers, and while Allen's newest is far from sadistic, the film is an examined portrayal of an era of the golden days of cinema that brings back the golden, and leaves the rust behind. Sure, Allen can be completely self-absorbed with his films, making sure his unique cinematic voice is heard and quirkiness felt wholeheartedly, but, regardless of all that, I absolutely fell in love with this film. And while love is not rational, you fall, and lose control, which is the exact same feeling I had when leaving the cinema for this film.
An upbeat young man falls in love with a girl in 1930s Hollywood. 'Cafe society' triumphantly showcases Woody Allen once again at his utter best as he turns the prior statement into a complex study of human emotion filled to the brim with the same depressing realism in conjunction with the light hearted humour that Allen is renowned for. The film combines a perfect balance between cinematography and tone, and the acting brings to life the superb emotive dialogue that is the driving force for the narrative. The 1930s world built by Allen is fantastic as is the chemistry between the two leads Eisenberg and Stewart. Supporting characters are effectively used to develop the story as they contend with real world issues and the existential questions that keep us awake at night. Round of applause once again for Woody Allen who shows once more that he is truly one of the greats of cinema. Bravo.
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