Published on September 14th, 2016 | by Craig Silliphant0
Are critics hard on some Woody Allen movies because of the genius films he’s made? How does Café Society stack up in the Allen canon?
It’s not a particularly astute observation to note that Woody Allen pumps out films at a workmanlike rate, usually about one a year. While some want to hold him to a certain standard, each time expecting him to be as brilliant and revolutionary as he was with Annie Hall, I am of a different mindset. Yes, it’s disappointing when Woody has a film you don’t really connect with, but as a longtime fan, I love that he produces movies at such a prolific rate. I’m willing to forgive him the odd Curse of the Jade Scorpion if he’s also going to hand in a Blue Jasmine.
Café Society, by title alone, sounds like a Woody Allen movie. But which side of the quality line does it fall on?
It’s the story of a young man, Bobby, from The Bronx in the 1930s, who moves to Hollywood and falls in love with the assistant of his powerful Hollywood agent uncle.
I’ve seen all manner of avatars for the ‘Woody Allen’ character, from Will Ferrell to Jason Biggs, and Jesse Eisenberg as Bobby is probably as close as you’re going to come to our nebbish hero. Kristen Stewart plays his love interest, Vonnie, and does a decent job, but I still don’t feel like I’ve ever really connected with her on screen. That doesn’t change here (I’m sure she won’t lose sleep over it). Steve Carrell doesn’t steal any scenes, but he does a workable and sympathetic job as Bobby’s Hollywood uncle.
One of the first things I noticed about Café Society was how great it looked. It was well staged and beautifully shot, bolstered by some excellent set design. Steve Carell’s rich guy office is thoughtfully designed, replete with sumptuous class; dark wooden shelves lined with books, and a huge, but elegant desk surrounded by classic furniture and modern art. During their romance, Bobby and Vonnie tour the classic LA movie houses of the 30s, with grand pillars and stunning, rich colours, recalling an era we remember as being so classic, whether or not that was ever really the case. These sets juxtapose well with the decidedly unromantic, cramped apartments we see when Bobby or his family is at home in The Bronx.
The film is light and breezy, not hilarious, but affable and witty. It doesn’t try to philosophize too much or wallow too deeply in any sort of Bergman-esque existential crisis (in fact, death in this movie often comes as a comical gangland-style bullet to the brain). But it does feature some pondering about life and love as well as characteristic Woodyish lines, like, “Live everyday like it’s your last, and someday, you’ll be right.”
There are some good twists and reveals, though the third act feels a bit predictable as they wrap up Bobby’s story, and then forced, as they shoehorn in some family dramas. However, these orbiting B-stories are pleasantly entertaining, so it works well enough.
Café Society got sort of middling reviews. While it feels a bit too light and obvious to be considered a really important Woody Allen film, I think the critics were a bit too harsh on it, again, owing to the fact that it comes from Allen. If this were an unknown filmmaker handing in a cute little romantic comedy, it would probably be thought of as one of the best of the year. I watch every Woody movie like it’s his last, and someday, I’ll be right. So I don’t take the good ones for granted, and Café Society was one of the good ones.