Review by Siobhán Rich for Mr. Will Wong
There are few figures in Hollywood more divisive than Woody Allen. The Writer/Director has his detractors and they will eagerly line-up to say why they won’t watch his Movies. I begin with this acknowledgement only to highlight why it is important to set aside personal biases and look at a Movie as an individual being separate from whatever history or opinions one may have about its creator. While many aspects of Café Society can be paralleled to Allen’s own life it is not a Biopic and deserves better than to be simply cast aside as such.
Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) is a young man with dreams he thinks are bigger than New York City. Luckily his uncle, Phil Stern (Steve Carell once again proving he can balance drama with a touch of comedy), is a name dropping Hollywood power player who doesn’t mind a little nepotism as long as it doesn’t interfere with his own carefully arranged life. Bobby soon meets Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), an office girl with a Master’s Degree and questionable taste in men. The two become quick friends but no more because Vonnie has a married boyfriend. Undeterred and egged on by friends and family alike with sage advice like, “Unrequited love kills more people every year than Tuberculosis,” Bobby attempts to usurp his unknown rival.
When Bobby loses the battle for Vonnie’s heart he heads back to New York to run his mobster brother’s nightclub. Surrounded by his interfering family he eventually meets Veronica (Blake Lively) and the two are quickly intrigued by one another: she with his Jewishness, and he with her name which reminds him of his lost love.
There are no surprises in the story or even in the soft lighting and character development told through hairstyles. However, while the cinematography is bland the art direction is not. The scenes in California are done in a pale yellow and brown palette evoking a false sepia tone that whispers of the Silver Age of Hollywood. Allen’s beloved New York, on the other hand, is a city where colours thrive.
The brightest notes in the movie belong to people stuck in B-storylines. The scene of brilliant patter between Candy (Anna Camp) and Bobby make the viewer long for the moment she returns to the screen. Likewise, Corey Stoll’s Ben is a gangster is a deserving of his own spinoff Movie costarring the entire Dorfman clan.
Woody Allen gives us a great Film about once every five to seven years. This is not that Film. But with incisive writing and strong performances from the Film’s leads, Café Society is a promise that THAT Film is on its way.
Mongrel Media release Café Society on Friday, July 29, 2016.
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