Café Society (2016)6:04 PM
Anyone who is anyone will be seen at Café Society.
This review contains Spoilers
Café Society is directed and written by Woody Allen (Annie Hall, Midnight in Paris) and stars Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network, Now You See Me), Kristen Stewart (Twilight, Snow White & The Huntsman), Steve Carell (The Office, The 40-Year-Old Virgin) and Blake Lively (The Shallows, The Age of Adaline). "In the 1930s, a Bronx native moves to Hollywood and falls in love with a young woman who is seeing a married man". Woody Allen is known as one of the greats - is this yet another win or another rare misstep?
My feelings are pretty mixed towards this film - on one hand, it is masterfully made and has some beautiful cinematography with good performances but on the other hand, there really isn't much to it, the script is nothing special, there are representational issues and you would be surprised if you watched this and only found out afterwards it was from a universally acclaimed director - it's not amazing, it's just nice, sweet and sometimes dips into fluffy territory. I've learnt that I shouldn't really knock a small story that is uneventful as films tell stories on so many different scales but there wasn't much else to care about in this film except for the romantic element, everything else was sidelined and therefore didn't feel important, even though it kind of was.
The performances in Cafe Society are of a very good quality (mostly). I thought Jesse Eisenberg was a likeable lead and even though he was still kind of the same character he usually plays, it was nice to see him in a period setting. Eisenberg did a good job - he has now shown, even though he lacks diversity, he can do a solid job in most roles. This is the first film I have seen Kristen Stewart in that is one of her smaller, nice, independent flicks which she has been doing recently and getting acclaimed for. I was excited to see her as I've heard that she's really turned things around. The first thing I noticed is that she really is a lot more charismatic these days and I liked her performance - I have issues with her character but we'll talk about that later. Unfortunately though, I couldn't help think she was miscast - it was made very clear that her character just wanted the simple life and Hollywood wasn't for her which is fine and she suited that but the actual qualities of the character such as costume choices and some of the mannerisms just didn't suit Stewart - I don't imagine her or her character in pastel dresses. I didn't actually know Steve Carell was in this film so it was a surprise when he turned up - I actually found his performance the weakest out of the bunch. It was somewhere in the middle of his The Big Short performance and his Foxcatcher performance - I actually think Carell just might naturally have an irritating voice which could be a reason for why I wasn't so keen on his performance. I was also pleasantly surprised by Blake Lively who I really think is doing a great job of diversifying her resume - she did a brilliant job in The Shallows, a pretty good job in The Age of Adaline and I think she did a really good job hear as well. She doesn't get as much screen time as the others but her character is by far the most likeable and I think an element of that is down to Lively's performance.
At first, I thought this was going to have a similar plot to La La Land - two people falling in love and Hollywood is the backdrop. That is kind of what happens but the story is a little more complex than that - the actual development of the romance is kind of skipped for both times Bobby (Eisenberg) falls in love - this was clearly a deliberate creative choice but I think it would of made us care a little more about Bobby's relationship with Vonnie (Stewart) a little more as I think the film would have been all the more powerful if we, the audience, were 100% invested in their relationship - they had their sweet moments but it was no surprise when Vonnie chose Phil (Carell) over Bobby. The film actually has quite a short running time of around 90 minutes so they could have actually spent more time developing the relationship. The whole film was a kind of love triangle - Stewart just can't get away from those! - and I have to say, it was quite interesting and intriguing at times - when Bobby and Phil both worked out that Vonnie was the girl they were in love with is one moment that comes to mind. I also liked the glimpse of Hollywood from behind the scenes we got - I love hearing backstage chat so even dialogue that was irrelevant to the plot was interesting to me. I don't have major problems with the plot, I just wish I cared more about it.
Where Cafe Society falters and goes from being a harmless, sweet love film to a film that gets you thinking and disliking it is with the way it represents certain groups of people. I understand that the film is set in the 1930s so things were much different then to what they are now but I think there are better ways to go about portraying groups of people than this. So, women in the film are just what you would expect for the 1930s - there isn't much to them other than being love interests. Towards the beginning of the film, Bobby hires a prostitute and when she arrives, it is found out she is also a struggling actress so this is what she does to earn money - ok, I understand this is shocking and I don't think anyone should have to reduce themselves to this level. However, what took this scene to the next level was that she was really desperate to have sex even though Bobby wanted her to just take the money and go - she was sex crazy! Not a great representation. Next, we find out that Vonnie is a secretary, has good cooking skills and is the central love interest - what a stereotypical character! It then doesn't help that it is revealed Vonnie is in a relationship with Phil - please do not say she slept her way into this job because it is left open for audiences to interpret it that way! I will give the film credit that this twist was unexpected though. Finally, the film lacks racial diversity completely - I think every cast member, including the extras are caucasians - this could also be down to the time the film was set but it is just a little unbelievable to watch - especially after the whole #OscarsSoWhite controversy and this is the type of film the academy loves. So the film is full of negative portrayals of these groups of people but then there are some odd lines in there that are so true - Bobby's family at home have a discussion around the dinner table that love is not all about looks and that character and loyalty are important factors to consider. It is nice to see that the film is aware of this and almost lets me forgive it for some of the earlier terrible portrayals. More lines are that you can't just trade your wife in for a new one once she gets old - another important line! It just confuses me how the film can talk about the same characters in two completely different ways - the positive and progressive lines towards the end almost seem out of place and shoehorned in.
Cafe Society is a very stylistic and artsy film with some interesting creative choices behind the camera. Most notably, the shots are incredibly rich and bright with an almost angelic and gold touch to them in Hollywood whilst they are very bland and deprived of colour when Bobby is back home. This obviously is to show a contrast between the two types of lives. I know this choice isn't going to be more everyone as some of the shots did look like the characters had had seriously bad fake tans but you soon begin to not mind it the longer you watch. I also picked on some other things - I liked the old-school editing, it definitely fit well with the time period and actually made the film feel like it was a film made in the 30s. There was one obvious and poor use of green screen when the characters visit the celebrity houses in Beverly Hills but other than that, Cafe Society is pretty beautiful to look at.
Cafe Society is La La Land-lite - it tells a very similar story but obviously isn't a musical and putting it bluntly, isn't as good. The cinematography is beautiful but some may think a little too orange. The plot is simple and could of spent more time developing relationships between characters. The performances are strong across the board - Eisenberg, Stewart and Lively should be proud of their work here. The film is a little backwards with its representations but admittedly, it makes sense with when the film was set - Cafe Society could easily be a film that was released in the 30s - the editing choices, costume design and story - it is yet another love letter to Hollywood but has been released possibly 80 years too late. This film will find its niche audience and they will truly love it and appreciate it as the masterpiece I'm sure it is. But for me, whilst I didn't dislike the film, it was just good and I was hoping for great. There's a line in the film that perfectly sums up my feelings - 'I'm half bored and half fascinated' - that's basically how I felt when watching Cafe Society.
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