Cafe Society (2016)
dir. Woody Allen
written by: Woody Allen
starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Blake Lively
Jesse Eisenberg opens Woody Allen’s Cafe Society with a mediocre Woody Allen impression. He has an insufferably sexist rendezvous with Anna Camp as a first time hooker, and he scurries about a stern browed Steve Carell until Kristen Stewart appears, seemingly strong and in control of her domain. In this latest from the Amazon bonded Allen, a New York Jewish man finds himself struggling to make it in Los Angeles during the Golden Age of Hollywood. He meets a woman he expects to be his great love, but it turns out she has other romantic entanglements.
Let’s mention the positives in the movie; the reasons I didn’t turn it off after some early sexist bullshit. The production design is intricate and opulent. Soda shops full of brass, Carell’s lush office, gangster bars. Old Hollywood and prohibition era New York are brought to life from production designer Santo Loquasto (Bullets Over Broadway) and set decorators Regina Graves (The Knick) and Nancy Haigh (Truman Show, Forrest Gump, Road to Perdition, everything else) with cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (Reds, Dick Tracy, Apocalypse Now) capturing the warmth in the California sun and the seedier bits of dockside burials. His crew developed an intriguing vision of the 30’s, even the overdone costumes from Suzy Benzinger possessed a certain charm.
The rest of the movie delivered nothing but a mix-and-match of Allen’s previous stories. Is anyone prolific enough to be excused for playing Yahtzee with plot points? He rolls the dice curious of which combination of self-deprecation and self-obsession he wants to portray. He finds women capable in their scenes, when the premise doesn’t maneuver the the awkward. Kristen Stewart charms in her introduction to Eisenberg; “I really like spending time with you, I hope that’s okay,” demonstrates her fantastic instincts. When she attempts other less charming scenes she’s flails. Lively, another unspeakably gorgeous set piece, surprises with her own good natured character, but she is again lied to repeatedly and treated as the trophy wife. The movie is beautiful, if you ignore every ounce of dialogue outside a few pleasant asides. The script itself is Allen at his least inspired.
The movie is outdated. antiquated. “Give her gifts,” the mother suggests for wooing the new girl. It’s played too romantic to feel satiristic, and knowing Allen’s history with women (apt director, creepy human), it hard to believe he’s poking fun at a history that is too present. Just watch this one with the sound off.