James Cole Clay // Film Critic
Reviewing the annual Woody Allen film has been sort of an event. While not all are particularly great, or even that good, there are a few that stand out as timeless pieces of filmmaking.
His 46th outing, titled CAFÉ SOCIETY, was picked up by the newly minted Amazon Studios for a WHOPPING $30 million price tag. It’s going to be tough to recoup that sum in a summer where the art house scene has struggled to stay afloat. However, Allen’s latest is a subtle, yet deeply affecting romance filled with laughter and a surprisingly sexy tone.
The film is a nostalgic picture set in 1930’s Hollywood, where we find young Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) fresh off the train from Brooklyn. In hope of bettering himself, he goes to work in the mailroom for his high-powered Uncle Phil (Steve Carell). The two guys have very little report outside of chatting about Bobby’s older siblings, housewife Evelyn (Sari Lennick ) and gangster Ben (a scene-stealing Corey Stoll).
First, this is a story about love, yet Allen’s heavy footing into the familial territory works in spades. Bobby quickly becomes infatuated with Vonnie, (Kristen Stewart) his uncle’s assistant who courts him around LA to dive bars and places out of the typical flashy scene.
This film marks the third romantic collaboration (ADVENTURELAND, AMERICAN ULTRA) between Eisenberg and Stewart, and never have either one of their screen presence felt so fresh.
As Bobby falls in love, the film literally lights up with subtle visual cues that had me biting my lip and falling in love with Los Angeles as well as the indelible Stewart. Mr. Eisenberg is no slouch himself. Topped off with a charming “NEW YAWWK” accent, he works well as the everyman and surrogate for a role Allen would have played 30-40 years ago. They both have evolved over their careers. While each have their own misses, their chemistry is undeniable and this is the most fulfilling romance on screen in years. Maybe because Allen allows the romantic tryst to be grounded in reality with just a hint of movie magic. It’s unpredictable, utterly sexy and completely gorgeous…. until reality sets in and the plot thickens.
There’s plenty of fun to be had in CAFÉ SOCIETY, and maybe this is a reflection of the times. The women in the film are treated as trophies and it’s a bit irritating to watch with a modern mindset. Although the boys play – whether it’s Stoll’s hilarious turn as a gangster who buries his enemies in concrete, or Carrel’s philandering – it just seems like the women are always waiting in the wings. It may be impossible to divorce yourself from how far we have progressed, the film is depicting a certain time with the utmost accuracy.
Allen’s script highlights the best use of his dialogue. While the film is split between New York and Los Angeles, he’s able to give life to both cities through the spoken word of his characters. It breathes texture into the film that has been lacking in period pieces in some time (minus LOVE & FRIENDSHIP).
CAFÉ SOCIETY is so many things combined into one stellar picture that makes you love being in love with the movies again.
CAFÉ SOCIETY opens in limited release this Friday.