Hollywood was so much better when people drank all the time.
Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) is a Jew living in New York during the 30’s. He’s not very inspired with his life there and even if he can join his brother (Corey Stoll)’s line of business, he opts not to, in hopes that he’ll make it big in Hollywood once he gets there and hooks up with rich and successful uncle Phill (Steve Carell). While it takes awhile for Bobby and Phill to eventually meet, when the two do get together, Bobby gets a chance to meet the nice, lovey and sweet Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) – a gal Bobby becomes smitten with right away. After all, she’s the opposite of everything Hollywood stands for – she’s pure, original and not at all expecting to be rich, famous, or on the silver-screen. The two end-up hitting it off, even if Vonnie has a boyfriend already, which makes Bobby try even harder for her heart. Little does Bobby know, however, that Vonnie isn’t just going out with anyone in particular – she’s going out with someone very near and dear to Bobby. Someone that will change Bobby’s life and aspirations altogether.
Another year and guess what? Another mediocre Woody Allen movie. That seems to be the general theme with Woody’s past few movies over the last couple of years; while none of them have ever been “awful”, the haven’t been as nearly “outstanding” as we’re sometimes used to expecting from Woody. Gone are the days of Annie Hall, Manhattan, and Hannah and her Sisters – now, we have to get used to more Woody Allen movies like Café Society.
Which, in all honesty, isn’t such a terrible thing, because the movie is actually quite nice.
This isn’t to say that it’s “great” by any means, but what Café Society does, and does well, mind you, is give us that sense of old-Hollywood nostalgia that, yes, can be a tad bit corny, but also feels genuine and allows you to feel closer to these characters and these settings. Of course, old-timey Hollywood is no new territory for Woody to explore, but he gets a lot of mileage of this time and place, showing us how most of the people back in the day who came to Hollywood, all expected to fame and fortune right off the bat – like the sort of place where dreams are made of.
And yes, I know that Woody has already covered this sort of ground in his movies before, but it still sort of works. There’s a certain balance that he’s able to find between “nostalgia” and “corniness” that’s surprising; we’d all assume for Woody to lose his touch and just start making more and more annoying mistakes, but nope, he surprisingly knows what can work for the audience, and how much mileage you can get out of a conventional story, so long as you inject with some humor, heart and most of all, interesting characters.
Though Café Society may not have the most illusive and spell-binding characters to date, what helps most of them is that the actors in the roles are good enough that they make them more compelling than they actually have any right to be.
Case in point: Jesse Eisenberg. As a Woody Allen surrogate this time around, Eisenberg gets a few things right – he knows how to be neurotic without over-doing it, and he knows how to deliver a lot of Woody’s tongue-twisters that aren’t at all genuine, but are still sometimes entertaining to hear. But then, halfway around the midpoint, Eisenberg’s character and performance changes, to where he’s more grown-up, angrier and, well, more adult. It’s a hard transition to pull off in a Woody Allen movie, but Eisenberg does well with it, as he shows that he’s able to get as much out of this thinly-written character as he can.
Kristen Stewart’s pretty good, too, as Vonnie; for the third time, her and Eisenberg are together on-screen and they make it work. There’s a genuine chemistry between the two and you can tell that they help the other when push comes to shove. Though Bruce Willis was initially cast in the role, Steve Carell works just fine as Phill, a mean, sometimes conniving Hollywood agent. Sometimes, he can occasionally sound a little too modern, given the time and place of the story, but because Carell’s comedic-timing is impeccable, it still works.
And the rest of the cast is quite solid, too. That’s something that Woody has never lost his knack for, thankfully. However, if there is an issue with Café Society is that, yes, it does unfortuntaely feel like a whole bunch of previous ideas and themes that Woody has worked with in the past, cobbled-up together to make something that’s a lot like his other films and is sort of made-up as it goes along. In a way, you almost get the sense that Woody had some sort of idea to start with, got enough money and star-power to film it all, and just filled in the blanks once the last-act came around.
There’s no problem with that, but sometimes, a story needs to be mapped-out a whole lot better and not just feel like another wasteful opportunity for someone to make a movie for no reason.
Consensus: Light, funny, well-acted, and surprisingly heartfelt, Café Society hits a sweeter spot in the Woody Allen catalog that may not light the world on fire, but still works and shows that he’s got the goods.
6.5 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire