Café Society

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Woody Allen has made almost 50 movies. I’ve liked about half of them. I’ve loved about 5 of them. Not sure how I feel about those numbers. There are certainly a lot of reasons to boycott him. He basically married his stepdaughter. There are certainly more reasons to be upset by Roman Polanski, but as a movie critic, I set all that aside and just review how the movie is, setting aside the personal life of the filmmaker.

There is something interesting about movie critics, though. They seem to give writer/directors more leeway when it comes to making crap. Quentin Tarantino can make movies that aren’t as good as his early stuff, and critics are rather kind. Same thing with the Coen brothers, who I thought about while watching this, since their last movie was Hail, Caesar! That’s a film that also dealt with old Hollywood.

But back to critics. Everyone will agree that Woody Allen’s best decade as a filmmaker was the ‘70s. Yet when he releases new movies, you can count on them getting good reviews, which is baffling to me.

Take music, for example. A music critic at Rolling Stone might say that Bob Dylan is the best songwriter of all-time, yet if his new record comes out and it sucks, they don’t hesitate to say so. Movie critics just can’t seem to do that with Allen and his ilk. I have no problem doing that, and this is one of those times.

Now, I’m not somebody that only likes his ‘70s stuff. I loved many of his ‘80s and ‘90s movies. Yet I was baffled by the fact that critics praised Vicki Cristina Barcelona and Blue Jasmine. Both movies had good performances from the cast, but weak scripts. In this latest, I can’t even say there are good performances from the cast. Kristen Stewart doesn’t come across as a woman from the ‘20s/30s. Jesse Eisenberg was distracting in the entire first half of the movie, doing the Woody Allen type of cadence in his voice. It’s always an odd thing when the neurotic protagonist sounds exactly like Woody Allen did when he was in his own films.

Steve Carell plays Steve Carell.

Eisenberg plays Bobby Drofman, a nice Jewish boy from the Bronx that goes to Hollywood to make it in movies. It helps that his uncle Phil (Carell) is a powerful agent in Tinseltown. After being blown off by him for a few weeks, he finally gets a job working for him. Sure, that may be just running errands, but at least he’s making some money. What was hard to figure out was why if Phil was such a jerk to him in the beginning, did he start inviting him to all his parties? It didn’t fit the character they presented to us early on. My girlfriend had a bigger problem with him sending his receptionist Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) out with him, to show him around town.

Since it’s an Allen picture, Bobby falls fast in love with Vonnie, who already has a boyfriend. Of course, that’s uncle Phil, who you’d think…wouldn’t risk sending out his secret lover with his nephew.

Corey Stoll, cast against type, plays the gangster brother Ben. As is usually the case with Allen pictures in the last 10 years, it’s lazy writing. Many times the audience at the screening laughed, because they were expected to. The mom would say she’s angry with her neighbor because he plays the radio loud, and Ben would say, “I’ll have a talk with him.” They’d laugh like they hadn’t heard anything funnier, knowing that Ben would soon make this neighbor swim with the fishes (or, with the concrete).

It’s a shame to watch these Allen pictures and think of all the better ones — Manhattan Murder Mystery, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Bullets Over Broadway — which had gangsters, but made you laugh because they were cleverly written. You’d look forward to every bit of dialogue.

A couple of characters could’ve been dropped. Sister Evelyn (Sari Lennick) and her husband Leonard (Stephen Kunken) occasionally pop up, when the haphazardly thrown in wacky family was there for comic relief. Leonard is an intellectual, that likes to quote philosophers. That’s mostly because Allen is incapable of having a movie without one. Yet…you think about how great those types of characters were done in the ‘70s. I believe it was Annie Hall, when an intellectual in line at a movie theatre, won’t shut up. He gets called out for being the wind bag that he is. In this, the character adds nothing remotely interesting.

As for Woody Allen narrating the movie….he sounds 90-years-old and a tad sluggish. He’s also stating things that are sometimes glaringly obvious. Other times he narrates things you’d wish he would’ve just shown us in the film.

One of the few interesting scenes involved Ben and a call girl. She’s Jewish, shows up late, and everything goes south (not in that way). Yet even a scene like that…just made me think of better scenes in better movies (i.e. Matthew Broderick, playing Neil Simon, in Biloxi Blues)

The movie gets credit for great costume design, production, and cinematography. It’s just a shame that the script meanders, and often feels like a first draft badly in need of a rewrite.

The Coen brothers didn’t succeed with their take on old Hollywood with Hail, Caesar! That had a handful of scenes that we loved, though. This doesn’t.

It gets 1 ½ stars out of 5.