There’s one, and I mean just one, reason to take in writer-director Woody Allen’s latest film and it’s not something for which the Woodman can actually receive credit. That is unless you want to give him credit for his choices in cinematic collaborators. What I’m referring to are the stunning technical contributions by the legendary cinematographer Vitorio Storaro. What Storaro brings to the film makes it almost (but not quite) worth recommending the film. He has gorgeously lensed the period pic digitally (the first time that Allen has opted not shoot on film) and bathed the film in gorgeous blues and oranges that really bring the film into a whole other realm. Unfortunately, the story that Storaro has lent his sizeable talents to is so paper thin that you come away feeling a sense of sorrow that the semi retired cameraman didn’t have a better project with which to make his contributions.
On the whole, there’s no bigger fan of Woody Allen’s talents as a filmmaker than I am. It’s hard to find a body of work that is so richly textured and varied as Allen’s. As such, it’s easy to get excited each summer when the release announcement of the latest Woody Allen film is made.
After the last several projects, however, that excitement is beginning to dull a bit. The last picture of merit that came from the mind of the celebrated director was Blue Jasmine and that was three years ago. With his last three pictures, each film seems to be lesser in terms of its ability to have lasting impact with the viewer. For me, Café Society is the cinematic equivalent to left overs from a meal that was heartily enjoyed the preceding night. The basic core ideas and philosophies of Allen’s films are there but they’re just so watered down that they hardly register.
In the latest film even the narration, voiced by the director, seems awkward and stilted. Jesse Eisenberg plays the part that once would have been played by Allen but even his attempts at mimicking Allen’s onscreen camera tics seem to fall flat. The story, which takes place in a 1930s setting that is overly bathed in nostalgia, involves Eisenberg’s character hightailing it to Hollywood to work for his movie mogul uncle (Steve Carrell) and falling for his uncle’s assistant (Kristen Stewart) only to later find out that his uncle is also in love with the girl and plans on leaving his long time wife for her. Eisenberg’s character carries on with his life, marrying a character played by Blake Lively, but you just know at some point that his uncle’s assistant will reenter the picture and you hold your breath until it happens.
The whole cast gives it their all and can’t be faulted but you can’t expect them to work miracles. Café Society is a film running on the fumes left over from better pictures of days gone by and there’s nothing that can disguise that fact.
Photo: Eisenberg & Stewart in Café Society
Café Society is playing in Charlotte at the Regal Manor Twin and in Winston-Salem at a/perture.
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