By: Henry J. Fromage (Four Beers) –
The writing’s been on the wall for Woody Allen essentially ever since Midnight in Paris convinced us all that he still had that Oscar mojo in him. The old, “one good, one not so good” Allen alternation has become a protracted “ehhhhhh” as the bleh To Rome With Love was followed by the good yet Cate Blanchett-propped up Blue Jasmine which turned into Magic in the Moonlight, then Irrational Man, then, now, Cafe Society.
This was a movie that came out in 2015. Remember?
Cafe Society is another vacation into the past, in this case the glamour of 1930s Hollywood, with another young nebbish Woody stand-in (born to play the part Jesse Eisenberg) romancing the same fresh-faced beauty (Kristen Stewart) as his hot-shot agent uncle (Steve Carrell). Oh, and the protagonist’s brother (Corey Stoll) is a New York gangster for some reason.
Woody still has some bon mots left in him, and is able to create a consistent aura of gentle amusement, especially in the way the love triangle begins to discover their romantic entanglement. If you’re a fan of the basic Woody Allen setup and just want to spend an unchallenging hour and a half enveloped in another wisecracking field trip to yesteryear, this will scratch your extremely mild itch.
Also, much has been made of Allen’s first teamup with legendary DP Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now, Last Tango in Paris), and while often quite pretty, particularly the first Hollywood mansion party pull in and the final extremely overt The Great Gatsby nod, I could have done with less Thomas Kincaid/Rivendell lighting whenever an attractive actress showed up.
Why yes, the sun always does shine on this side of my face.
The Stoll-starring gangster interludes set to snappy, generic jazz, often of Godfather-style executions presented as punchlines to jokes that were never properly set up are just bizarre. The whole Corey Stoll subplot seems to be a setup to a Jewish mother bemoaning her son becoming a murder, and worse, a Christian. Meanwhile, this has roughly nothing to do with the main plot, and the main characters seem to have forgotten all about it roughly two scenes after its denouement.
What’s really the matter, though, is Allen’s created a set of philandering, selfish characters it’s hard to root for or care about, no matter how many years the plot meanders over in search of enough distance for nostalgia to kick in. Is the audience at large supposed to also pine for a lost love they’d kick their current spouses to the curb in 20 seconds to requite?
One that looks like Blake Lively, no less.
Worst is, despite overt themes of loves lost, paths not taken, and the regrets of the past, absolutely none of that lands with any weight. Instead, we have a feather-light and calorie free sugared foam that leaves no lasting impression despite how hard Stewart tries to add some substance with subtly welling eyes and sad smiles.
I held out longer than most, but I don’t think I’ll be considering Woody Allen a mandatory theatrical appointment any longer. Cafe Society is a quintessential Woody Allen joint, and not a single atom more.
Cafe Society (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever an actress is lit with a golden glow
Take a Drink: for each 1930s Hollywood namedrop
Take a Drink: whenever Kristen Stewart seesaws in her affections
Take a Drink: for each gangster interlude
Do a Shot: for wistful looks from 20/30-somethings