Friday, October 7, 2016

Review of CAFE SOCIETY: Winsome Woody

October 7, 2016

His controversial personal life notwithstanding, I generally enjoy watching Woody Allen films. The comedy is so distinctively Woody, so odd and witty, usually self-deprecating. The sets and costumes are always so meticulous to their period. Impressively, he has had a film out almost every year since his debut in 1965 to the present, usually in all three capacities as director, writer and actor. 

Among those I have seen, I liked  "Hannah and her Sisters," "Crimes and Misdemeanors," "Bullets Over Broadway," "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" and "Midnight in Paris." This year, his latest film "Cafe Society" premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. Woody Allen wrote, directed and narrated this new film.

The film is set in the late 1930s . Bobby Dorfman moved out of his home in New York City to go to Los Angeles to work as an errand boy for his uncle Phil, who was a big-time agent to famous Hollywood stars.  Bobby was smitten with the simple beauty and practicality of Phil's secretary Vonnie. When Bobby professes his love to Vonnie, she reveals that she already had a boyfriend. Problem was, this boyfriend is married, and worse, Bobby knows him. 

This story of unrequited love is very familiar fare in Hollywood. This film just stood out among the others with the same story because of the Woody Allen flair it had. The narrator was Woody Allen himself with that distinct voice of his. Onscreen though, the same distinct Woody Allen persona is embodied in Jesse Eisenberg as Bobby. If Woody was not acting in his film, his lead actor clearly takes on his spirit and voice. This does not always work out perfectly, especially if the actor, like Eisenberg, has a very distinct face and style himself.

Reminiscent of her breakout role as Bella in the "Twilight" films, Kristen Stewart (as Vonnie) is again tackling the familiar role of a girl caught between two men, both of whom she loves. Stewart has become more beautiful of face now, also displaying a maturity  in her acting not seen before. I think she fits the mold of a Woody Allen muse, like Diane Keaton, Mia Farrow and Scarlet Johansson before her. Hoping to see her in future Woody films. 

Steve Carrell continues to explore roles outside slapstick comedy, as his role here was again on the more serious side as Uncle Phil.  Corey Stoll was dashing as Bobby's dangerous gangster elder brother Ben. Blake Lively makes a belated appearance as the lovely Veronica, who catches Bobby's attention in New York. Parker Posey was very likable as the socialite Rad Parker, Bobby's supportive friend. The senior actors playing Bobby's parents (Ken Stott and Jeannie Berlin) were very funny.

There were some angles that did not really work, like the $20 hooker scene or the noisy neighbor subplot. As a whole though, I thought it worked. The script may not not be as rich of quotable quotes, though it have that Woody imprint. I liked the atmosphere of old Hollywood glamour here with the countless movie personalities and stars name-dropped. In New York, Ben and Bobby ran a high-end night club. Of course this came with the requisite snazzy wardrobe of furs and silks on both coasts. The cinematography was so crisp and the colors so vivid and warm. The expected Hallmarks of a Woody Allen film are here. 7/10. 

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