After taking a break from reviewing Woody Allen’s movies, I find they’re just as sloppy and self-indulgent as ever
CAFÉ SOCIETY written and directed by Woody Allen, with Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell and Corey Stoll. A Mongrel Media release. 96 minutes. Opens Friday (July 29). For venues and times, see Movies, page 54. Rating: N
Full disclosure: I stopped reviewing Woody Allen movies in 2009 (with Whatever Works) because I ran out of things to say about them. But after seven years I figured I should try again. It’s not like I’ve stopped watching them, after all, though mostly I’ve been catching up with each new film on disc when year-end awards voting rolls around.
So I went to see Café Society, and honestly, I should have stayed home. Allen’s approach to filmmaking hasn’t changed at all: he barely directs his actors, he doesn’t care about pacing or structure, and he long ago stopped trying to represent human behaviour in any realistic manner. He remains firmly, frustratingly fixated on the same handful of topics: guilt, shame, class, jazz and older men sleeping with younger women.
Café Society configures those themes as the story of Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg), who comes to Hollywood in the 1930s to work for his uncle Phil (Steve Carell), a hotshot agent. Bobby is determined to seduce Phil’s employee Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), who is secretly Phil’s mistress. Meanwhile, back home in the Bronx, Bobby’s gangster brother Ben (Corey Stoll) is killing people
to get into the nightclub business, because Allen remembers how much people liked the contrast of venal and mortal sins in Crimes And Misdemeanors.
Directors are allowed to have favourite themes, of course, but most of them are better at weaving them into the fabric of a movie. Allen’s characters just talk them out; subtext is for the young, I suppose. And as happens increasingly often in his films, the lack of any real artistic oversight leads Allen down some very weird paths.
Café Society has a scene in which Pitch Perfect’s Anna Camp shows up as a novice prostitute summoned to the lonely Bobby’s door – only to have him shame her for her line of work and refuse to have sex because they’re both Jewish. She’s never seen again, and I have no idea what Allen thinks that scene is about.
I have no idea what Allen thinks the entire movie is about. Yes, Vittorio Storaro makes Old Hollywood look sun-dappled and gorgeous, and the period fashions look especially great on the likes of Stewart, Camp and Blake Lively, who shows up in the last third of the film as a wealthy divorcée. But Café Society isn’t about anything other than Allen’s own self-indulgence. It’s not even about cafés; most of the picture takes place in bars and clubs.
Anyway, that’s me out. Assuming we’re both still working, I’ll check back with him in 2023. firstname.lastname@example.org | @normwilner
Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart: where are the cafés?