Between this, “Hail, Caesar!” and “The Nice Guys,” old-time Los Angeles is getting a lot of cinematic visits in 2016…
“Café Society” is the latest film from Woody Allen and stars an ensemble cast, including Steve Carell, Jesse Eisenberg, Blake Lively, Kristen Stewart and Corey Stoll. In the film a young man (Eisenberg) moves to 1930s Hollywood to work for his uncle (Carell), a talent agent, and falls in love with his uncle’s assistant (Stewart).
I had been looking forward to this film ever since the cast was announced and became even more intrigued when I found out the film would take place in my all-time favorite time period, mid-1900s LA. It looked like a breezy time at the movies and for the most part that is what it is; almost to a fault.
No one in this film, including Allen behind the camera, does anything they’ve never done before. Jesse Eisenberg does his awkward, neurotic, almost Woody Allen-esque thing, Steve Carell is likable even as a scumbag and Kristen Stewart continues to show she can do more than gawk at vampires, although she doesn’t steal any scenes. They all work well off of each other and deliver the trademark Allen dialogue with ease.
The film looks gorgeous, too. Half of it takes place in Hollywood and half in Brooklyn, and each has its own color pallet and feel. Los Angeles has a warm yellow glow while New York has a dark blue tint; it really shows the polarized atmospheres that each city offered in the time (and to this day).
And for any camerawork buffs like myself, there are plenty of long, one-take scenes that are a lot of fun if you know what you’re looking for.
As I touched on before, however, the film’s biggest flaw is that there is no boundary-pushing to be found here. The plot goes exactly where you think it will and each character plays into the story exactly how you imagine. The whole thing begins to feel aimless after a while, and the second half gets a bit repetitive, with characters seemingly doing the same thing for a few scenes on repeat, and side characters getting screentime for pointless issues.
“Café Society” is watchable enough, even if its second half drags, but it is just a shame that it couldn’t have taken more advantage of its wonderful cast and proven writer/director. Fans of old time Hollywood or die-hard followers of Woody Allen will find more to appreciate here than the average filmgoer, but it left me desiring more given everything that it had at its disposal.
Critics Rating: 5/10