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WOODY ALLEN’S ‘CAFÉ SOCIETY’ DOESN’T PASS MUSTER

I cut a wide swath for Woody Allen and always have, but even I have to admit that Café Society is one of his weakest films. It isn’t dull, thanks largely to Santo Loquasto’s exquisite production design, evoking vintage Hollywood and New York City nightlife in the 1930s. Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro makes the most of these settings and the beautiful women who populate the film.

But the story is undernourished and its flimsiness is underscored by Allen’s heavy-handed narration. He feels the need to connect the dots for us even when the points he’s making are fairly obvious.

Jesse Eisenberg plays a young New Yorker who chafes at the idea of going into his father’s jewelry business and decides to try his luck in Hollywood, where the only person he knows is his uncle, a hot-shot agent (Steve Carell). The uncle is dismissive at first but hires him as a gofer and instructs a nice young woman in his office (Kristen Stewart) to show him around Los Angeles. Eisenberg is immediately smitten and after a time she begins to have feelings for him as well. But this is a star-crossed romance, for reasons that should be fairly clear to anyone who’s ever seen a movie before.

Eisenberg steers clear of imitating Woody, thank goodness, but it isn’t always easy to accept his character’s naiveté. The other cast members do yeoman service (especially Scottish actor Ken Stott, who is flawless as a cranky New York Jew) but they can’t rescue a screenplay that doesn’t even provide us with a definitive or satisfying denouement.

Even though I have to write this film off, I take comfort in knowing that Allen is already working on another movie as well as his first TV series, and because inspiration still strikes from time to time there is good reason for camp followers like me to remain optimistic.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

6 comments

  1. Katsm0711 says:

    I think there are different ways to enjoy movies and there are some that I love not for the story but for the place it takes me. I’m hoping this is one of those.

  2. Mr Maltin:

    Your review reflects my own thoughts on film. I must give a shout out for the “swinging “Early Jazz soundtrack featuring ” Vince Giordano and the Night Hawks ” and classics from Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Ben Selvin. Here is the playlist from Cafe Society for your readers.
    1. Lady is a Tramp
    2. Jeepers Creepers
    3. Mountain Greenery
    4. Have You Met Miss Jones
    5. I Didn’t Know What Time It Was (Benny Goodman & His Orchestra)
    6. Taxi War Dance (Count Basie & His Orchestra)
    7. Zing Went the Strings of My Heart
    8. Manhattan
    9. My Romance
    10. Pick Yourself Up
    11. I Only Have Eyes For You (Ben Selvin)
    12. The Peanut Vendor – El Manisero (YeraSon)
    13. There’s a Small Hotel
    14. Out of Nowhere (John Gill)
    15. This Can’t be Love (Conal Fowkes)

  3. Jeffrey says:

    Way too slow, this film was. The whole cast is sadly wasted in this lifeless, meandering script.

  4. Jim Reinecke says:

    Still, considering the state of American cinema today, lesser Woody is still superior to major just-about-anyone-else in the business. I look forward to seeing this one, as I do all of Allen’s work.

  5. There is a lot going against this movie. Jesse Eisenberg’s character comes off as a complete asshole within 10 minutes of the film, thanks to a really terrible scene between him and a Jewish hooker. None of the humor in that scene landed, which just made the situation really sad and uncomfortable to watch, and then kind of difficult to root for Eisenberg at all after that. Steve Carell isn’t bad by any means, but he seems incredibly miscast in a role like this (not to say that he can’t act in roles that are more serious, but this Hollywood film executive didn’t really suit him). Both of the Dorfman parents come off as really awkward on screen and thus kill any of the jokes that they’re meant to deliver. The only actor that gives a notable performance in this movie is Corey Stoll as the brother, but it’s not enough. Kristin Stewart was mostly fine, but occasionally started picking up some of her infamous Kristin Stewartisms throughout. Carell and Eisenberg become really close out of nowhere, both of the couples’ relationships are sped up by Woody Allen’s narration (which doesn’t really add anything to this film), and this movie is only 90 minutes long, so I feel as if they could have definitely spent more time with all of these relationships, instead of just having Woody tell us what was happening. And on top of all of this, while this is a beautiful film to look at, there is nothing new in this movie. It’s another Woody Allen movie with the same romances and love triangles centered around white people who like jazz with a pretty inconclusive and unsatisfying ending.

  6. I needed to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little touch of it I
    have you bookmarked to have a look at new material you post.

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