Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carrell, Blake Lively, Corey Stoll and Jeannie Berlin
Running Time: 96 minutes
Release Date September 2nd
I love Pusha T’s ‘Sweet Serenade’ and struggle to think of a better song this year than Kanye West’s ‘Waves’. My enjoyment of both of them are somewhat fettered by the presence of Chris Brown’s hooks. I find it perplexing that he continues to be a go-to in hip-hop and RnB circles — even more so on The Life of Pablo, a record that also boasts a Rihanna intro. Just as confusing is the never-ending queue of young actors eager to work with Woody Allen, and while there is a distinction between convictions and allegations, when watching his movies, Dylan Farrow’s words do weigh heavy. I wonder if they did with his collaborators? I’ll always try and separate art and artist, but Woody has never made it easy.
Whether he’s cast in his movies or not, there’s always a Woody avatar present. Café Society has two: Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg), a young New Yorker who ditches a job as a jeweller to move out west to LA; and his uncle Phil (Steve Carrell), a powerful film agent who likes the company of younger women. The former becomes enthralled with the latter’s secretary and lover, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), a vibrant and playful woman who guides him around the Hollywood Hills and shares his love for the golden age of cinema. Eisenberg is a good stand-in for Allen, channelling the right amount of neurotic, nebbish and needy into Bobby, but his courtship of Vonnie, while intended as endearing, falls flat. In a scene that aims for charm but reeks of smarm, Vonnie rejects an advance, mentioning she has a boyfriend, leaving Bobby to uneasily jest: ‘I hope he knows how to kiss you’.
Allen continues his trend of narrating, vocalising his characters’ thoughts and traits, while at the same time having absolutely nothing to say — aside from empty pontificating about Rudolph Valentino letters. At the centre of Café Society is a love triangle with little conflict and not a lot more. Threads of subplot hang and either lead nowhere, or in the case of Bobby’s brother Ben (a game Corey Stoll), who may just be the infamous Jewish gangster Bugsy Siegel, exist in an entirely different blood splattered movie. Blake Lively fleets in and out briefly as an alluring divorcee, but had far more to work with when she was tussling with a computer generated shark. Give thanks then to Jeannie Berlin (currently delivering a glorious turn on The Night Of) who turns the tired trope of nagging Jewish mother into an absolute hoot.
A saving grace too is cinematographer Vittorio Storaro who lovingly drenches the screen in shades of gold, be it in poolside parties or dive bars off Sunset Strip. It’s not enough though, and Café Society just leaves you a series of whys. Why 1930s Hollywood? Why Eisenberg again? Why remake Adventureland? The quality of Blue Jasmine made you morally question what and who you were supporting by championing it; churned out movies like Café Society make it a lot easier to walk away.