Friday, July 22, 2016

Film review: Cafe Society

Writer/Director: Woody Allen
Producers: Letty Aronson, Ron Chez, Helen Robin,  Adam B. Stern, Allan Teh, Stephen Tenenbaum, Edward Walson
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Parker Posey, Corey Stoll
1 hour, 36 minutes

By now, audiences expect certain elements in a Woody Allen movie: a period piece from the 1930s, a love triangle, a nebbish Woody-Allen-like protagonist, perhaps a gangster, a discussion about morality and, of course, some sharp, funny lines sprinkled throughout.

Cafe Society, the auteur's latest, contains all these ingredients which adds up to an entertaining though flawed film that's parts comedy, romance and drama.

[Spoiler alert] Jesse Eisenberg plays Bobby, a naive Jewish kid from Brooklyn who hits up his bigshot uncle Phil (Steve Carell), a Hollywood agent, for a job. Unwittingly, Bobby falls for Phil's younger secretary, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) who is secretly Phil's mistress. When Phil leaves his wife for Vonnie, Bobby's world crashes down and he returns to Brooklyn to work for his gangster brother, Ben (Carey Stoll) and runs his high-society nightclub. Years pass, Bobby marries another woman and becomes a father. He grows tougher, harder, wiser. One day, Vonnie and Uncle Phil visit Bobby's New York nightclub and that nearly rekindles his L.A. romance with Vonnie. By the end of the film, we're left with a big What if? What if Vonnie had chosen Bobby instead of Phil?

Cafe Society isn't really a comedy, but a character study of Bobby, whose transformation (from inexperienced boy into worldly man) is rare in a Woody film. His character arc ends on a convincing note of regret. Eisenberg handles the role well, though Stewart and Stoll shine. However, Stoll's mobster character doesn't really belong in this film and threatens to distract us from the Bobby-Vonnie storyline. Similarly, an early scene between Bobby and a first-time hooker is unnecessary and falls flat.  There are too many storylines which nearly capsize the film.

The look of Cafe Society also distinguishes it from a typical Woody film. Vittorio Storaro (The Conformist, Apocalypse Now) use of colour and economical, yet effective camera movement gives the film an added grace.

Cafe Society ranks as a middling, late-Woody film, a mix of comedy, drama and romance.

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