By Christian DiMartino
Another year, another Woody Allen movie.
Cafe Society marks Allen’s 47th directorial outing. Of the 47, I’ve seen 43, which is impressive if I do say so myself. I think Allen is a genius, to say the least. Personal life be damned. If he makes a movie, I will show up to it. However, it must be noted that after you’ve seen as many as I have, you’ll begin to notice that, particularly in his later work, that he tends to re-use ideas. So you’re basically on board with his later work, or you’re sick of them.
Me? I’m always down, because he tends to even make the old seem somewhat new again. So I thoroughly enjoyed Cafe Society. It doesn’t quite reach the greatness of recent efforts like Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine, but I’d say it’s just as good as the criminally underrated Irrational Man from last year. It’s a late summer charmer. Just what I needed.
So what’s he cooked up this time? Allow me. Jesse Eisenberg plays Woody Allen… I mean, Bobby Dorfman, a nice, awkward young lad who leaves Brooklyn and heads to LA in hopes of finding opportunity. He seeks help from his Uncle Phil (Steve Carell), a movie producer who can hardly even remember his nephew’s own name. Carell is one of the funnier elements of the film, and Eisenberg gives one of his finest performances as the Allen conduit.
Phil soon introduces Bobby to Vonnie (Kristen Stewart, reuniting with Eisenberg for the third time…just shack up already!) , and Bobby immediately falls for her. Trouble is, she has a boyfriend. The identity of the boyfriend… well, I’ll just let you see for yourself.
Circumstances cause Bobby to head back to Brooklyn, and there he manages a night club with his brother, Ben (Corey Stoll, another one of the funnier elements at play here), who also happens to be a murdering gangster. Aside from Quentin Tarantino, I think Allen might be the only filmmaker that can make someone getting shot in the face funny. While in Brooklyn, he meets Veronica (Blake Lively) and falls for her. But then Vonnie enters the picture again, and and and…
This is just me trying to be vague. There is a crucial plot detail that I am leaving out, mostly to avoid spoiling the fun. Because there is great, witty fun to be had at Cafe Society. There’s funny moments aplenty here, whether it be a sharp one liner or just the awkward situations that the characters are involved in.
You gotta admire Allen, strictly for the fact that he whips up a movie every single year. Sure, like this one, they can feel familiar. But the man is still a master, whether it be in the director’s chair, or as a screenwriter. The actors here handle this material with great care. Eisenberg is one of Allen’s best Allen impersonators. Carell is a hoot. Stewart and Lively are lovely. Stoll is spot-on.
Allen isn’t typically known for large budgets, but you’d never know it here. This film is a visual marvel. The costume and production design feels so authentic. But honestly though, the real star here might be Vittorio Storaro, returning after a long hiatus. Storaro is the three time Oscar winning dp behind Apocalypse Now, Reds, and The Last Emperor. And while the year is early, I say expect another nomination. From the opening scene and on, the colors just splash off the screen. The palette used here is so gorgeous, your eyes might melt.
It’s been a while since I’ve really enjoyed a movie, and I have no problem in admitting that I really enjoyed Cafe Society. It’s gorgeous, funny, perfectly acted fun. And like a lot of Allen’s films, there’s an underlying sadness here that’s difficult to shake off. It might even convert newbies. But again, you either take his later work, or you leave them.
Take this one.