Cinestudio Preview: "Cafe Society"

It’s been another year since one of Woody Allen’s films was shown at Cinestudio. The acclaimed director, who usually releases a film every year, is back with Café Society. Allen’s latest is a period piece, set in the technicolor world of 1930s Hollywood. Not true technicolor of course, but digital film (unusual for Allen) that makes this world of young romantics feel like a rich memory we’ve stepped into.
Bronx native and emotionally fidgety young man Bobby moves to Hollywood to get work from his wealthy, socialite Uncle (Steve Carrell). Carrell’s character is a stereotypical agent to the stars. He speaks in a mode of the
classic media accent, bark- ing for phone numbers, coffee, whatever he needs with the trademark speed and rudeness that characterized the time. He has almost no prior knowledge of his visiting nephew, a familiar trope in classic Hollywood movies.
When Bobby has finally begun to settle into the life of high society in LA, he meets a girl. Kristen Stewart plays the love interest who ensnares Eisenberg’s heart, Vonnie. Having worked together before in movies like Adventureland and American Ultra Stewart and Eisenberg know how to build chemistry between their characters. But the romance can’t take off: Stewart’ s Vonnie is actually having an affair with the much older and married Uncle, Steve Carrell.
Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris won acclaim in 2011 with the story of a contemporary man who is called back in time to 1930’s Paris. Café Society seems cut from the same cloth if only to satisfy Allen’s love for recreating moments in history. One of the problems here is that once the story actually takes us into the heart of the legendary Cafe Society of the 1930s, everything else becomes secondary. The love triangle, loosely established to begin with, seems to fall in the pedantic foreground of a much larger mosaic. Though Eisenberg, Carrell,
COURTESY OF Blake Lively, Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart in Cafe Society.
COURTESY OF Blake Lively, Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart in Cafe Society.tu

and Stewart perform admirably and give us all the elements of an interesting romantic drama; Allen’s interest in their story only goes so far. His real interest is clear: this is a movie about setting.
Allen has rebuilt his perfect ideal of this place in time, recreating nightclubs, movie palaces, exotic clothing and the beautiful decadence that inspired the Hollywood legend for decades to come. His $30 million budget was much needed to accomplish this task. Nothing is done halfway to bridge the gap between now and then, and the lushness of every shot points to great dedication. Just like in 2011’s Paris, Allen is not just creating the world, he’s actually recreating the people in it as well. Every few moments a reference is made to some real-world star on the rise or a throwaway line becomes an inside joke for movie buffs and historians alike. Allen stocks his movie with old-Hollywood doppelgangers like Trout in a stream.
If the feeling of this lost world had failed to trans- late from the screen, Allen’s efforts to pit the two lovesick men against each other would be forced to carry the weight of the story. It is lucky we don’t need to rely entirely on this facet of Café Society. The love triangle’s uninspiring resolution reveals its foundational faults. This is not a criticism of the performances of the lead actors, which are exactly what one would expect, except for a bizarrely underused Blake Lively. The traditionally stilted but dry and anxious dialogue of a Woody Allen movie is a few shades underdeveloped here, especially in terms of emotional connection.
Woody Allen’s filmography is so full of great movies that it’s impossible not to compare this movie to films from the past. That’s part of why Café Society is a good movie, not a great one. Even if the movie had performed well in every respect, it would not have broken new ground. But of course, that’s hardly the intention. Think of Café Society less as a romance and more as a memory that has returned to life, still rich with seventy years of romanticizing. When everything goes right, It’s easy to get lost in the sprawling fantasy. Cafe Society will be shown at Cinestudio from Oct. 19 to 22 at 7:30 p.m.

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