Thursday, July 28, 2016

Movie Review #460: "Café Society" (2016)

Movie"Café Society"
Director: Woody Allen
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hour, 36 minutes
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A young man named Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) moves from New York to Hollywood for a change of scenery. He takes a job working for his uncle Phil (Steve Carell), a bigwig Hollywood agent who represents many big name stars. Phil introduces Bobby to a young woman name Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), who he quickly becomes enamored with despite the fact she is already seeing someone else. Vonnie starts to fall for Bobby, too, and is eventually forced to chose between her current lover and this new man in her life. 

Written and directed by Woody Allen, "Café Society" is a comedy examining life, love, and work in 1930's Hollywood and New York, ultimately pitting the two cities against each other for the affections of one man, a young man who is pursuing love and trying to find his place in the world. This man is Jesse Eisenberg, who plays Bobby, a young Jewish man who has just left New York for Hollywood for a taste of the glamour and lifestyle of Los Angeles and in an attempt to become something big there. Eisenberg is the clear heir apparent to Woody Allen as his self-depreciating, twitchy nature and his spastic, nervous mannerisms fall perfectly in line with a young Woody Allen. If anyone were looking for an actor to play Woody Allen in a biopic of the man, Eisenberg would probably be the best choice. Once arriving in Los Angeles, Bobby attempts to get a job working for his Uncle Phil Stern, played by Steve Carell, a powerful Hollywood agent who spends his time making deals and going to parties where he hobnobs with Hollywood's elite. Carell plays it straight for the most part, though there are a few instances that call for Carell's wit and charm to add to his character. Phil introduces his nephew to one of his employees named Vonnie, played by Kristen Stewart, who he asks to show Bobby around town so he can get acquainted. Bobby is taken by her beauty and enamored by her down-to-earth attitude in a town only concerned about fame and money. Vonnie seems to have a strong disdain for the Hollywood lifestyle and would prefer a smaller house close to the beach rather than a big, opulent Beverly Hills mansion, and would rather drink at cheap bars and eat at small taco shops than be caught dead dressing up fancy for a posh restaurant or a high society Hollywood party. Apart from her stint in the "Twilight" series, Stewart has been slowly growing on us. We don't blame her for makin' that sweet teenage vampire money, and now she has the freedom to do all the indie movies her heart desires. She plays this role well and has certainly come a long way since the beginning of her acting career. Despite the fact Vonnie has a boyfriend, Bobby seems determined and will not be dissuaded because, as Woody Allen says, "the heart wants what it wants," and he would know, right? Other notable performances include Corey Stoll's Ben, Bobby's gangster brother, Jeannie Berlin's Rose, Bobby's nagging Jewish mother (and it's not racist because she'll be the first to tell you so), and Blake Lively's Veronica, the ravishing beauty Bobby meets later in life.

"Café Society" is a very traditional Woody Allen film. Actually, it feels like a combination of many of his past works remade into this ode to 1930's Hollywood when people didn't care about things like a huge age gap or social norms. It doesn't offer anything hugely new in terms of content, but that doesn't mean it isn't enjoyable. This is not a movie about a plot, but rather about enjoying the characters and relationships Allen has created. It's full of witty dialogue and quippy banter with Allen's signature philosophical undertones and observations about the absurdity of life. We aren't huge fans of Woody Allen, but we laughed a lot throughout this film. There are not a lot of huge laughs to be had here, but there is a steady stream of chuckles and a lot of smiles. The film drips and oozes with bright, gold charm set against a lavish Hollywood landscape, as well as an idealistic looking New York City. Apart from a few instances where things look a little too "clean" to be 1930's Los Angeles, we enjoyed the presentation of "Café Society." That being said, Allen's movies always feel like a virtual therapy session for himself as he works through his clearly deep-seeded issues on screen. As per usual, there is a relationship between a woman in her mid-20's and a man over the age of 50. We get the sense most of the Hollywood stars and directors who have had a very personal, very public scandal like Allen would have tried to move away from it for the sake of their own sanity. Allen? He has made it his entire career. At this point, if he wanted us to forget the controversies surrounding his personal life, he wouldn't always make it so obvious that he's basically casting his life on the silver screen. His insistence on using these relationships with massive age gaps makes it hard to separate his work from the controversy surrounding his personal life.

In the end, this is a solid offering from Allen and is much better than his last few works "Irrational Man" and "Magic in the Moonlight," but is not quite as spectacular as "Midnight in Paris" or "Blue Jasmine." The performances are great, the movie is oozing with pondering and disillusionment, and apart from a few minor critiques, if you like any of Allen's past works, chances are, you'll enjoy this film.

My Rating: 7.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 7.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 74%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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