Review: Cafe Society

Cafe Society
5 10

cafe society film review Woody Allen Jesse Eisenberg Kristen Stewart

REVIEW: Aimless New Yorker Bobby Dorfman moves to Hollywood in order to find something worth living for. After getting a job with his uncle, an influential agent, Bobby falls head over heels for the man's secretary Vonnie. Unfortunate for him, Vonnie and Bobby's uncle are already wrapped up in an affair.

REVIEW: Sometimes your dislike for a character can hold you back from fully appreciating a movie. That's the case with CAFE SOCIETY, a movie which is very lightweight and inconsequential, but pleasant enough. But man oh man, I really disliked the protagonist. As played by Jesse Eisenberg, Bobby Dorfman is a clueless, personality-free dope, a fidgety fellow no one of us would want to befriend. The fact that he's unlucky in love and unable to achieve true happiness doesn't matter to us, because we don't like him. It's a problem for this otherwise so-so movie, which despite being gorgeous to look at never really becomes anything worth caring about.

cafe society film review Woody Allen Jesse Eisenberg Kristen Stewart

It's Woody Allen's 47th feature, and in true Woody fashion you never know what kind of flick you're going to get. Just when you're ready to count him out, he gives you a BLUE JASMINE. CAFE SOCIETY, a frivolous lark about Hollywood and New York set in the 1930, is certainly not good enough to be mentioned alongside that extraordinary film, nor is it so bad that there's any reason to condemn it. It sits there, being pretty, but tells no relevant tale. It's like one of the vapid California residents Woody showcases here; looks nice but so what?

Allen is no stranger to repeating himself, and here he tells a story he's certainly told before. Bobby Dorfman is a Bronx-born fish out of water in Hollywood, eager to do something with his life even though he's not sure what. He heads to Hollywood in order to hook up with his egomaniacal uncle Phil (Steve Carell), a powerful agent who's always boasting about the stars he knows. Bobby gets a job working with Phil and instantly falls in love with Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), Phil's secretary who is having an affair with the older man. Though he doesn't ultimately find anything worth pursuing in the movie business, Bobby is so smitten with Vonnie that he can't see anything else and stays a while. Vonnie, the prototypical Allen ingenue, is caught between the two men but, as in most of Allen's bittersweet works, eventually chooses safety over true love, siding with Phil and forcing Bobby to move back to New York to pursue a career in a mob-financed restaurant alongside his crooked brother, Ben (Corey Stoll).

CAFE SOCIETY's subplots pop up like odd tangents we're forced to invest in. Bobby's brother Ben is a gangster who has no problem dealing with enemies in brutal ways, but the film can never figure out what to do with him or his story. Are we supposed to think it's funny when he keeps burying people in cement? I guess, but the film isn't able to rouse any laughs from us; the fact that he kills people isn't funny on its own, it has to be presented in such a way that amuses us. Allen forgets to give these scenes levity; he presents them with old-timey tunes and that's that. A subplot involving Bobby and Ben's sister Evelyn (Sari Lennick) and her intellectual husband (Stephen Kunken) dealing with their angry neighbor is even less amusing; the film keeps insisting we become involved in side stories we couldn't care less about, and while Allen's best movies are ensemble pieces where many things are going on at once (HANNAH AND HER SISTERS and CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS are my personal favorites), CAFE SOCIETY is clearly only really about one thing, and that's the story of Bobby's love for Vonnie and his ultimate settling for something else.

cafe society film review Woody Allen Jesse Eisenberg Kristen Stewart

Back to Bobby. Eisenberg, at his best, is a very good actor and capable of making us care about people who seem, at face value, to be fussy jerks whose veneer of arrogance hides festering personal wounds. Think of how compelling his Mark Zuckerberg is in SOCIAL NETWORK; not a nice guy, but we sensed that he wasn't as terrible as his actions were. Here neither he nor Allen give us a real reason to care about Bobby, who just acts impulsively and unappealingly, and when he gets in over his head - in Hollywood and in love - we couldn't care less about his dilemma. There's something very unappealing about Bobby; maybe it's just me, but I can tell you that some of Woody's best characters have been serious louses (Michael Caine in HANNAH, Martin Landau in CRIMES) but we loved watching them anyway. Bobby brings nothing to the table, and Eisenberg's performance is humorless and, frankly, depressing. (And just wait until you have to sit through his laugh.)

CAFE SOCIETY makes up for this, a little bit, in giving us two supremely beautiful actresses delivering very appealing performances. Allen's never had a problem spotlighting talented young women and giving them juicy material, and while the characters here aren't nearly intriguing enough to rise above the ho-hum material, they look simply resplendent. I'm talking about Kristen Stewart and Blake Lively; the camera absolutely loves both of them (the film was shot by the legendary Vittorio Storaro, who does an excellent job). Stewart, who I don't really consider myself a fan of, is entrancing here; she gives a real "movie star" performance; hard to pin down what it is, but she's got that "it" factor here. Lively, who doesn't have as much screen time, similarly brightens things up as Bobby's second choice, a sweet woman whom he ultimately marries. With THE SHALLOWS and this supporting role, Lively is proving she's more than just a pretty face; she's a genuinely irresistible screen presence.

Other supporting turns are fine, but as written they're not able to provoke much interest. Carell's character in particular seems like a missed opportunity; he's obsessed with his job and also his mistress, but the movie doesn't really give him anything to do. Carell could have made the character exciting but he seems hampered by the bland material. Stoll's Ben is also a missed opportunity; the actor seems willing to swing for the fences, but Ben's storyline is a distraction, not a worthy subplot, and the character has no meat on his bones. CAFE SOCIETY appears to have a lot on its mind but no interest in fleshing any of it out. The jokes are stale (Allen must be desperate to find something new to say about finicky Jewish people), the narrative is rudderless and despite the lovely turns by a couple of alluring actresses, there's nothing on the screen to stimulate us. It's a nice movie to look at, and that's about it.

Source: JoBlo.com



Latest Entertainment News Headlines