Thursday, July 28, 2016


By cranking out 13 movies in 11 years, writer/director Woody Allen is in the most prolific time of his six-decade career. In that time, he’s had just as many misses as hits, and his newest film, CAFÉ SOCIETY, falls somewhere inbetween; or maybe better than that, or maybe worse…depending on what we demand from a Woody Allen film.

In the 1930’s, Bobby (Jessie Eisenberg), moves to Hollywood to work for his uncle Phil (Steve Carell), who is the head of a major movie studio. Bobby falls for Phil’s secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), who is secretly having an affair with Phil. When things go south for Bobby, he moves home to NYC, were he begins working for his brother Ben (Corey Stoll), who is the owner of a swanky, high-profile nightclub and also a gangster.

CAFÉ SOCIETY is a film which is loaded with old and familiar playthings for Woody Allen. Items such as marriage infidelity, love triangles, family matters, and unrequited love are everywhere, and for long-time fans of Allen, or those of us who have been familiar with his vast catalogue of films, it is comfort food-level cinema.

Unfortunately for this Allen film, CAFÉ SOCIETY doesn’t have much by way of a plot. The love triangle between Bobby, Vonnie, and Phil is where the movie is at its strongest, and is the best representation of anything resembling an actual narrative, but once that gets disposed of and Bobby heads back to the east coast, there isn’t much to hang our hats on other than the characters musing over the choices they had made in life. Little plot and a lot of character can be forgivable providing there is a payoff, but by the time the credits roll, one has to wonder what the point of it all was.

CAFÉ SOCIETY is the first film in which Woody Allen has worked with famed cinematographer Vittorio Storaro,  (considered to be one of history’s most influential cinematographers, having filmed notable classic such as APOCALYPSE NOW, REDS, and THE LAST EMPEROR), and the payoff is immense. CAFÉ SOCIETY, from sunny California to the grim of New York, is absolutely gorgeous. Some great work is done using natural lighting, and a short scene is Central Park fills the screen with beauty. Allen and Storaro bring the fun and swag of 1930’s Hollywood and New York right back to life, and the music is spot-on perfect.

Allen has always pulled great performances out of his casts, and CAFÉ SOCIETY is no different. Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, who have appeared on-screen together before, show great chemistry with Stewart getting the most to work with. Eisenberg is fine, even though his character feels a little inconsistent; he’s wide-eyed and innocent one moment, world-weary cynical the next, and then innocent again from scene-to-scene. Steve Carell plays a great part as the Hollywood boss, and puts on a touch of a classic screen-villain which is a joy to watch. Corey Stoll is a waste, as is Blake Lively who eventually enters the story as a new love interest for Bobby.

The enjoyment of CAFÉ SOCIETY depends on one’s demand from a Woody Allen film. His old tricks and styles are present, the laughs are plenty, in good taste and well-timed, and the dialogue is fun and snappy and very functional…but as a film it sorely needs a story to fit into the backdrop. It isn’t a total waste of time, and very much feels like Woody Allen is filling time before his next film.


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