A lot of the well-known Woody Allen (Annie Hall, Manhattan) characteristics are in his latest film, Café Society. Once again he narrates the film. There aren’t many, if any, who can give the right tone to the words of the celebrated screenwriter/director than the man himself. This is the first time he has narrated a film without appearing in it since 1987’s Radio Days. After a stint in Europe, he is once again in his beloved New York City. Though in actuality Hollywood was a city constructed to have films made in it, there could not be a city more perfect for making movies than the Big Apple. It is gritty yet beautiful, dirty yet photographic, filled with grey skyscrapers and other tall buildings yet bursting with colour, and crowded yet sparse. Every street corner is capable of telling ten tales. A city filled with stories and people. Once again, even though it is the New York City of the 1930s, Allen makes you fall in love with it. The loving way he photographs it and makes everything about it seem wonderful, quirky, but full of life. And finally, the music. Like many of his films before, this one features a great soundtrack.
That should make it a winner. And yet it doesn’t. Don’t get me wrong. It is not awful, but it is not a classic Allen film either. With each film he releases that disappoints me I begin to wonder if the man has lost his mojo. Or at least with what connects with people. Love is usually a safe topic for directors and films to examine. Every human being can relate to it on some level. We want to watch love. And yet, for the most part this film rings hollow. Scratching the surface, but never really diving in. Lacklustre.
New Yorker Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg – The Social Network, Now You See Me) is tired of working at his father’s (Ken Stott – Shallow Grave, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies) not very successful jewelry shop. He has bigger aspirations. So he leaves the Bronx and heads for the hills of Hollywood looking to get a job in the film industry.
He is not jumping in blindly as his mother’s (Jeannie Berlin – The Heartbreak Kid, Inherent Vice) brother, Phil Stern (Steve Carell – Despicable Me, The 40-Year-Old Virgin), is a big Hollywood agent. It takes a while to see him, but finally he does and Phil gives him a job as his assistant doing trivial jobs. It’s a start. The most important thing to happen to Bobby is that he meets Phil’s secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart – Twilight, Still Alice). He falls for her immediately. Unfortunately she has a boyfriend. He is persistent and when he boyfriend dumps her Bobby is there to pick up the pieces. Eventually she falls for him and they soon talk of getting married and moving to New York. Suddenly, Vonnie’s ex re-enters the picture and it is bye bye Bobby.
Bobby returns to New York tail between his legs and heart broken. His brother Ben (Corey Stoll – from television’s House of Cards), a gangster, has bought a nightclub and brings Bobby on to help him run it. The club is a huge success and Bobby is making money. A friend from his Hollywood days, Rad Taylor (Parker Posey – Superman Returns, Irrational Man), introduces him to the very beautiful Veronica (Blake Lively – Green Lantern, The Age of Adaline) and they are married. Everything is going great for Bobby and then Vonnie comes to town.
There are the typical Woody Allen droll lines about the meaning of life. Several of them are actually quite witty. But for the most part the story and dialogue just travels along on its merry way without really making you sit up and take notice. As a result no connection is made to it. None of the characters or their stories is fully fleshed out. There is even nothing resembling a message to be found.
One thing that Allen did manage in a big way was to make the usually cold and aloof Kristen Stewart seem like a romantic lead. Quite an accomplishment. Her Vonnie is endearing and sweet. A far cry from the characters she usually plays and Stewart is likeable and believable. She is also beautiful in the role.
Because it is a period piece there is a kind of elegance in the way it looks. An old fashioned elegance. Each scene is lit to perfection rendering everything in it sumptuous to look at. The Art Deco sets are wonderful.
With each film that Woody Allen releases we get further and further away from the genius he used to be. His 47th film is not a terrible movie; it just isn’t what he has shown himself capable of. Slight just like those Hollywood types.