Popcorn Picks: Cafe Society
Café Society is like if your favourite café switched from in-house ground beans to instant coffee. Sure it satisfies your craving, but it leaves you longing for the days when they’d serve fresher brew.
Starring: Steve Carell, Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Blake Lively, Parker Posey, Corey Stoll, Jeannie Berlin, Ken Stott
Director: Woody Allen
Choice Quote: “Socrates said, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living,’ but the examined one is no bargain.”
The Hype: It’s a classic recipe for Woody Allen’s annual big screen offering: take a handful of Hollywood heavyweights, a generous helping of period nostalgia, sprinkle liberal doses of social anxiety and sexual tension, shake until funny and serve.
The Reality: Not a great late-Allen flick like Midnight in Paris but not an utter letdown like last year’s Irrational Man, Café Society, the director’s first film in conjunction with Amazon Studios, serves up moments of hilarity in between stretches of bland interaction against a stunning 1930s backdrop.
Young Bobby (Eisenberg), inclined neither for the blue-collar New York life his parents resigned themselves to or the organized crime route his older brother took, heads out to Hollywood in the hopes that his big-shot studio exec cousin Phil (Carell) can hook him up with a gig in the movie industry. He quickly meets Phil’s beautiful assistant Vonnie (Stewart) and the film revolves on the relationships between the trio.
The problem here is that none of the principal players are likeable enough to truly make the viewer care about them. Eisenberg as Bobby, at times, comes off as if he’s impersonating a young Woody Allen, while Carell and Stewart are straddled with characters that exhibit far too little personality – and the personality they do exhibit doesn’t prove very endearing – resulting in a film that simply plods along.
By contrast, the secondary characters shine in this film. Jeannie Berlin and Ken Stott as Bobby’s hopelessly bickering parents have some of the most memorable interactions in the film. Corey Stoll, who shone as Ernest Hemingway in Allen’s Midnight in Paris, is equally as entertaining here as a mobster with a habit of solving all of his problems by doing what mobsters do – making people disappear. Blake Lively is perfectly sweet as Veronica, a wife who deserves better than she gets, but if Allen had let Bobby leave for L.A. and kept his focus on the New York family back home, this film would prove infinitely more entertaining.
An added bright spot is the work of celebrated cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, whose gorgeous projection of 1930s La-La-Land literally glows on the screen.
The Verdict: Café Society is like if your favourite café switched from in-house ground beans to instant coffee. Sure it satisfies your craving, but it leaves you longing for the days when they’d serve fresher brew.
Popcorn Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Café Society is in theatres now.