Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Speaks Reviews Café Society


"Late-period Allen" seems to be the buzz word of the moment when reviewing Woody Allen's yearly release. I'm not sure what that's supposed to mean, and it's a categorization I'm sure he would hate. I mean, he just keeps making movies and probably will until he dies. Some land. Some don't. I usually enjoy them no matter what. He doesn't really care either way, most likely. Another year. Another Woody. And, no surprise, I like this one.

Café Society is a funny movie, a romantic one, and a beautifully shot period piece that plays on classic Woody Allen themes, most notably the difference between Los Angeles and New York. Jesse Eisenberg is the Woody persona this time around, a neurotic New York Jewish kid named Bobby, who makes his way out to Hollywood in the late 1930s to land a job working for his Uncle Phil (Steve Carell), a successful talent agent quick to drop a big name at club or café or dinner or cocktail party. While getting his feet wet, Bobby falls for Uncle Phil's secretary, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) and makes friend with a married couple of socialites played by "late Woody" regular Parker Posey and Paul Schneider.

Back in New York, Bobby's gangster brother, Ben (Corey Stoll), a guy who sits at the dinner table counting his extorted thousands while Mom (the brilliant Jeannie Berlin) and Pop (Ken Stott, also brilliant) turn a blind eye in grand fashion, is making his way into the nightclub business. When he succeeds, of course, this prompts Bobby back into a New York state of mind. But Vonnie can't bring herself to leave LA.

The classic rom-com story plays out in fairly predictable fashion. True. But it is so gorgeously composed, the dialogue written with such wit, it's hard to sit there and think about any flaws or over simplicities in the plot. It's just enjoyable.

Italian cinematographer Vittorio Storaro is the big hire for Woody here. His work is exquisite, stylish, cool, the frame gorgeously painted with the sun and glitz of California and the chandelier elegance of New York's high life. The costumes and production design likewise match Woody's vision here. It begs to be seen on a big screen, unlike last year's effort from Woody, Irrational Man, a much much darker comedy that is also worth seeing.

Not everything works. I pause with a bit of disappointment in the casting of Steve Carell. He just isn't really believable as a Hollywood suit of this era, at least in my mind, and the appeal his Uncle Phil is supposed to have doesn't come through.

Eisenberg and Stewart are both great though, sharing once more an obvious chemistry after the brilliant Adventureland and the not-even-close to brilliant American Ultra. Corey Stoll's work as brother Ben is commanding in its hilarity. (Some of the best bits of the movie involve his willingness to dispose of bodies when he needs to.) Stoll plays a New York tough just as well as he played the great Ernest Hemingway in Woody's last masterpiece, Midnight in Paris, and I'm beginning to wonder if there is anything this guy can't do. Blake Lively's small turn as another love interest for Bobby is nicely played, and Anna Camp (of Pitch Perfect and True Blood fame) pops up as a rookie working girl in one of the movie's most hilarious scenes.

Much of the humor, of course, comes from Woody's dialogue. He's still got it. Great one-liners that poke fun at everything from Italian-American cuisine to Judaism itself, sometimes even together, "I grew up Jewish, so my Mom always burned the meatballs. She had to make sure she killed all the germs." Plenty of that sort. Plenty of laughs in the screening I attended.

Café Society is not great Woody in any "period" of his filmography, but I wouldn't call it minor Woody either. Or maybe I should just stop trying to categorize and be thankful that one of my favorite filmmakers keeps banging out movies at 80 years old. There's not much to say other than it's simply an easy and enjoyable comedy, well-worth watching, and, as this is the work of an 80 year old master, I don't think we should ask for much more. After all, witty romantic comedies are sort of his thing. Right? Or at least one of his things. Right? And this is easily his best movie since Midnight in Paris.
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Café Society

Written and Directed by Woody Allen

Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Steve Carell, Kristen Stewart, Blake Lively, and Corey Stoll

★★★ 1/2 out of ★★★

4 comments:

  1. I saw the trailer for this a while back, & it looks very interesting. I'll have to see this movie soon. I really need to watch some Woody Allen movies. I haven't seen any of his movies. (I know, bad Cameron). But I will get started on those soon.

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    1. Start with Annie Hall. Do it immediately.

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  2. Saw this last night and 3.5 out of 5 feels exactly right. It's good, very enjoyable, but definitely "minor" Allen. It certainly has its pleasures, though. Blake Lively hasn't been this good maybe ever (although I have yet to see The Shallows) - she's shockingly effortless and of course gorgeous. Eisenberg is the best Woody surrogate yet. I liked Carell, although I found myself thinking a lot how great he could have been as a Woody surrogate earlier in his career. Ah well. This is a film of many pleasures. Probably a "better" film than 2016's other Old Hollywood-set light comedy, although Hail Caesar's highs were much higher.

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    1. Blake Lively really surprises me. Have you seen The Age of Adaline? I really dug it. It's got this classic vibe, this handsome quality to it, that isn't around much anymore. She is perfect in it. And perfect here. I think I'm in love with her.

      Eisenberg is solid as the Woody surrogate. I also love Kenneth Branagh's take on the Woody persona in Celebrity. He is the best in my mind.

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