It’s been awhile but I’m back with another film festival. I saw the North American premier of Woody Allen’s new film “Cafe Society” Thursday night. I know that Woody Allen has been under fire recently by the allegations of his daughter. I personally believe that it needs to be investigated, but I also do my best to look at art without letting the shortcomings of the artist taint my views of their work.
The opening sequence of “Cafe Society” sums up the film: breathtakingly gorgeous cinematography with awkward voice-over narration. The cinematographer Vittorio Storaro has already been praised by many, but it really can’t be said enough. Unfortunately, The rest of the film lacked the same prowess and consistency.
The screenplay was distinctly Woody Allen existing in his own world somewhat removed from actual reality. Jesse Eisenberg plays Bobby, a New York native who moves to Los Angeles in hopes of finding a new life with the help of his executive uncle (Steve Carell). While in Hollywood, he falls in love with a woman named Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), but when his fairy-tale future with her is destroyed, he returns home to New York. There he finally finds the professional success he was hoping to find in California, just without Vonnie. The film follows Bobby in the years that follow as he runs one of the most successful night clubs in New York with his criminal brother. Despite settling down with a New York socialite Veronica (Blake Lively), he is never able to fully forget Vonnie, and the film lingers on their rendezvous whenever they are in the same city.
The melancholy love story, is inter-cut with the comedic interactions of Bobby’s family. These moments are jarring to begin with, as they seem rather unconnected to the main story while Bobby is in Los Angeles. While these comical moments eventually show their purpose with Bobby’s return to New York, they never quite mesh with the main story. Whether or not they belong, they do bring quite a few laughs with them, and the film is better through their existence. I only wish that Allen spent a little longer working on their cohesiveness.
The other outstanding issue with the story, is the treatment of Bobby’s wife Veronica. Bobby meets her at his night club and then pursues her in a slightly predatory manner. After their marriage, Veronica is thrown away as a character. It’s as if her only purpose was to give birth so that Bobby could gain the responsibilities of fatherhood, and to give him reason to pause if only for a moment when expressing his lingering feelings for Vonnie on their reunions. The role is a waste of Lively’s talents, and an unfortunate instance of using a woman as a prop instead of a person.
The performances in the film, similar to the screenplay, are uneven. The supporting cast is enjoyable and fit their characters well, though none of there writing leads to much nuance. Eisenberg and Carell played their standard characters which do seem to fit in Woody Allen’s universe, but seemed anachronistic at times. Kristen Stewart on the other hand was the standout as she continues to prove that she is one of the greatest actresses working in the indie scene today. The anguish that Sterwart portrays as she is forced to decide between two loves is heartbreaking and genuine. I only with the film would have stayed with her for a little longer.
“Cafe Society” won’t go down as a top tier Woody Allen film, but is the best he’s put out since “Blue Jasmine”. Storaro’s cinematography alone is enough to give the film a look, and the positives in the story and performances add enough to make it an enjoyable sit.