Saturday, August 6, 2016

Cafe Society (Brrockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

 Café Society

For the Woody Allen fans among us, here is "Café Society", a philosophic meditation on romance and pursuit set against Hollywood circa 1930. The film is episodic and colorful with a tone for nostalgia like "Radio Days," where Allen similarly functioned as the narrator.

Our protagonist Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) is a naive young man who wants to explore Hollywood in the hopes of getting a job with the aid of his uncle Phil (Steve Carell), an egotistical talent agent. Phil doesn't really want to help, but Bobby is clueless and Phil wants to get him off his back. Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) Phil's secretary agrees to show the naif around town.

Bobby is instantly smitten. Vonnie seems to be attracted to Bobby, but she admits she is dating someone. Instead of putting on the breaks, the pushy yet somewhat passive Bobby increases his efforts.

This is traditional Allen territory to be sure but the rolling dialogue and lively characters are comic enough to satisfy all. Eisenberg does very well as Allen's inimitable persona (complete with hunched shoulders) while the director himself offers a deadpan voiceover on the joys and perils of love which give the overtly melodramatic episodes a black-laced but bittersweet edge.

There are some fine performances. Jeannie Berlin is terrific as the anxious mother Rose, as is the existential father Leonard (Steven Kunken). Actor Corey Stoll has another good role as Bobby's gangster brother Ben,  which offers a comic tribute to film noir. David Lynch fans would do well to be on the look out for Cheryl Lee (Laura Palmer, Twin Peaks) in a small role.

While there are many traces of other Allen films here from the infidelity of "You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger" to the cinephile life of "Play it Again, Sam." The buoyant zest and trademark dialogue is well represented and gives this film a beloved yet slicing tone as in a well drawn cartoon from New Yorker magazine.

The millennial Allen seems to say that you can't always get what you want and it is both ridiculous and human to try.

The last moments of "Café Society" along with Allen's  recent films have a  crisp and catty Dorothy Parker wit along with the A-Ha just desserts of a story by O. Henry. All is not lost, however. Any acidity is balanced with equal parts of haunt and history. The director keeps a personal paradise of authors, actors, domineering parents and lost loves that invariably lead to an island of poignance that is both wished for and whisked away.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a Woody Allen fan for 40 years I found Cafe Society a huge disappointment.
Jesse E was droll, uninspiring, phlegmatic and a failure as a Woody clone. Couldn't wait for it to end.