Café Society

Directed By: Woody Allen

Starring: Jeannie Berlin, Steve Carell, Jesse Eisenberg, Blake Lively, Richard Portnow, Parker Posey, Kristen Stewart, Corey Stoll, and Ken Stott

"Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living, but the examined one is no bargain."
-Leonard (Stephen Kunken)

I haven't reviewed a Woody Allen film in a couple of years.  Honestly, it's been since his 2014 feature Magic in the Moonlight.  I couldn't tell you if it's just that I'm repulsed by the factoids of his well examined personal life that have come roaring back to the forefront in recent years or the general fact that he's made a million movies over the last forty years, but I needed a gap year from writing about Woody.  That's not to say that I haven't seen his 2015 feature film Irrational Man. I just needed a break.  Turning to Café Society, the most recent work of the most consistently working man in the film business, it's becoming increasingly clear that Allen has perhaps overstayed his welcome in the industry.  In his latest ensemble feature, he serves up nothing new or original.  It's a straightforward romantic comedy with lighthearted charms, not something befitting one of the most esteemed auteurs in cinematic history.

Having grown up in New York City, Jew Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) decides to move out west and start his career in Hollywood.  Leveraging family connections, Bobby finds employment with his uncle Phil (Steve Carell), a successful manager whose clients are the biggest and brightest stars in Hollywood in the 1930s.  As his uncle immerses him in the glitz and glamor of the high life on the West Coast, Bobby sees nothing but vanity, though he does find a friend in socialite Rad (Parker Posey).  Still, it's a nice launchpad for his career, and there are plenty of beautiful women to occupy his attention.  All things considered, this is a far better life than that which his gangster brother Ben (Corey Stoll) would offer him back east.

Bobby quickly meets Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), his uncle Phil's young secretary.  He falls for her instantly.  What he soon learns unfortunately is that she's taken. That doesn't stop the enamored young man, especially given that his uncle has tasked her with helping him to get settled in California.  Consequently, it's an unrequited love for quite some time.  When Vonnie's romantic entanglements are seemingly at an end, Bobby pounces at the opportunity to enter into a relationship with her.  As time marches on, he becomes so smitten with her that he asks for her hand in marriage.  There's just one problem.  Her previous romantic entanglements are not at an end, at least according to the other guy who has proposed to her as well.

Café Society
has all the markings of a Woody Allen movie.  A period piece harkening back to an era of which Allen is rather fond — as many of his films have proven over the years — the film boasts grainy cinematography, a jazz-infused score, and the party scene of old.  A verbose comedy, the film is full of plenty of dry humor and quips about what it means to live.  A destination picture, it gracefully captures the aesthetics of Hollywood on camera in a way that only Allen can.  Yes, Café Society is unmistakably a Woody Allen film.  There's a glaring problem at hand, however.  We've seen it all before in the dozens and dozens of films he's put out over the last four decades.  Lacking creativity and originality, Café Society is a totally predictable romantic comedy that doesn't stray out of Allen's comfort zone.

Like most Allen flicks, Café Society boasts an impressive cast headlined by Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, and Blake Lively.  All of them deliver competent performances.  For his part as Bobby, Eisenberg gives us the typical snarky young adult he portrays with one twist.  He's a lovesick puppy on the road to becoming a man.  For her part as Vonnie, Twilight star Kristen Stewart actually delivers a decent performance.  Torn up with love, the actress deftly inhabits this woman caught in the middle of a love triangle who somehow manages to fall in love with two different men.  As Uncle Phil, Steve Carell gives us an obstinate Hollywood bigwig blind to all that's happening around him when he's not making us think of James Avery with his character's moniker.  Finally, Blake Lively delivers an alluring performance as Veronica, the other Vonnie.  She's not Bobby's dream, but she's everyone else's on screen.

Gone are the days of Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Midnight in Paris.  We're left with derivative films.  Not terrific but not terrible, Woody Allen's Café Society gets a 0.06% rating.  Have a few glasses of Pinot Grigio with this one.