Monday, 5 September 2016

Review: Café Society

Café Society
Cert: 12A / 96 mins / Dir. Woody Allen / Trailer

Well, I'm not sure which theatrical gods I've appeased recently, but while the faintly trashy thriller Morgan didn't arrive at my local multiplex*1, the latest offering from Woody Allen did. And unless I'm very much mistaken, it's the first film of his to play there in the cinema's nine-year tenure.

** proudly wears film-snob hat **

The tale of Bobby, a self-conscious young Jewish man in the 1930s, moving from New York to Hollywood to work with his successful film-producer uncle, Café Society is one of Woody Allen's more Woody Allen™ films, and is all the more enjoyable for that. When falling for the girl of his dreams turns out to be far more complicated than he'd hoped, Bobby returns to the Big Apple to help run the family business, a decidedly dodgy nightclub. Naturally enough, the past returns to haunt him, and Allen's comedy of manners turns into a rumination on guilt, regret and idealism (don't worry, it's not as heavy as I've made that sound).

Jesse Eisenberg is almost tailor-made for the protagonist's role, seamlessly blending his trademark awkward muttering with Allen's script. He's supported in this by Steve Carell as the aforementioned uncle and Kristen Stewart as both his love-interest and macguffin. Carell cruises through his role as the troubled Hollywood mogul, not having to strain himself at all, but being able to deliver what's required without autopiloting. Stewart is a little more concerning, though. While it's great to see her and Jesse back together again, and while they have an undeniable screen-chemistry, Kristen never really convinces as someone from the 1930s. I think Stewart's a very underrated actress but she carries a modern aesthetic she can't seem to shake off here. And in this case, I have to lay the blame at least partly at the feet of the director. The rest of the cast blend into the timeframe so effortlessly that I can't believe Allen just let one of the most important performances of the film stand out in the wrong way. Things are made even more glaring when Blake Lively arrives in the second half, exuding a bygone era once again and thoroughly upstaging her counterpart.

But, on the whole, the film works perfectly well. Woody Allen is completely at home in the 1930s, and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro bathes the depression-era in a golden glow which matches both the script and the narcissistic characters delivering it. As noted above, what begins as a zippy farce ends quite ponderously, and often feels more like the Coen Brothers at times. Café Society won't be one of its director's most loved works, but it's a more-than-acceptable offering until the next one of those comes along...

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Magic In The Moonlight, American Ultra.
Yes, I know how that sounds.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
Only if you're an Allen completist.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Possibly, but I don't think it achieves all it could.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
No, not that that's a criticism in itself.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: This movie stars Ken Stott, who appeared in those Hobbit films, along with Richard 'Bravo Six' Armitage and Christopher 'Dooku' Lee.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 It's not like I purposely travelled to watch Morgan, it just happened to be playing near where I was at the time. Don't get me wrong, I didn't hate the movie, I'm just glad that a) I was able to use my Unlimited Card and b) it was genuinely a rainy afternoon as an alternative.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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