Café Society – The Woody Allen Pages Review

It’s been a while since we wrote a review, and it always feels so strange to do so. We have been covering Café Society for over a year, following its every step. This isn’t impartial, and we bring all the baggage of his previous films in with in. If you want a more general review, there’s plenty online. But here’s ours.

Minor spoilers.

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Walking out at the end of this film, the strongest sense I felt is that it was made by an old man. You can feel the ache of the decades – whether through the exaggerated beauty of the past, or the thick slab of regret that is slathered over everything. By the end, and the final scenes, Jesse Eisenberg begins to look miscast. There really should be a much older man having the camera pan around him.

After 46 films, and hundreds of stories, you can tell that Allen loves the writing of things more than anything else. And mainly, the writing is strong. The middle of the film – where the audience knows more than the characters – is a masterclass of writing. Every emotion is bled through – it’s almost Alfred Hitchcock in its level of tension and suspense. And there’s plenty of good lines, and plenty of wild characters.

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And there’s pleasure in the individual scenes but Allen again stumbles putting them together, relying on clunky narration to bridge scenes and introduce characters. The worse crime in the whole film is how the narrator tells us Bobby is in love, and doesn’t show us. And perhaps after all these decades, Allen is sick of wasting time. We never spend time with the characters, we are always moving forward. And it feels like we just fell short of really getting to know any of them

If Allen is caring more for the writing, then it’s the directing that suffers. He’s done a great job on the film’s look (kudos to cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and costume designer Suzy Benzinger), but there’s more than a couple of glaring bits of tone that doesn’t fit. Brother Ben (Corey Stoll) and Anna Camp are comic relief in the wrong film. The morality of murder is discussed, but for what?

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But this is good stuff, and look no further than the leads. Eisenberg is wonderful, especially in the film’s second half, when he has more complexity and conflict to deal with. Kristen Stewart rules the start of the film, her radiant beauty matches her struggle with the love triangle she finds herself in. Steve Carell plays it wonderfully, and its impossible to imagine Bruce Willis being so sympathetic, funny and awful at the same time. Blake Lively, for our money, steals the show, by being the good soul in the middle. She takes a flimsy part and makes it a human. Parker Posey does the same.

This film has been compared to other nostalgic look backs in Allen’s career like Radio Days and Bullets Over Broadway. For us, it’s probably closer to Vicky Cristina Barcelona – full of heart, and very bittersweet, with no easy answers. Or Sweet And Lowdown, with it’s heartbreaking romance at the centre. We wish it could have been longer, it felt like we barely got to know everyone. But such is the nightlife.

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It’s not amongst his best work, even of this decade. But it’s a solid entry in his immense filmography, one that stayed for days in our minds. It packs an emotional wallop, and probably Allen’s biggest tearjerker in many years.

Café Society is out in Australia on 20th October.

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3 Comments

  1. This latest film has lukewarm reviews but they have been more positive than for Allen’s two previous efforts, Irrational Man and Magic in the Moonlight. I, however, was sorely disappointed with CAFÉ SOCIETY.

    Despite a game Jesse Eisenberg performance–he is an excellent “Would Be Woody”–and an all-too-brief role from the luminescent Blake Lively–who should really be named Blake LOVELY, this was a disappointment. While there were about a dozen funny lines, the film consisted largely of flat, pedestrian dialogue between Eisenberg and the wooden Kristen Stewart; whose teeth upstage her at every turn, an underwritten Steve Carrell, and an utterly wasted use of the charming Parker Posey, whose character served absolutely no purpose in this film. In fact, everyone and everything was underwritten in this.

    On the plus side there were beautiful sets, cinematorgraphy, art direction, costumes, and music, as well as a truly hilarious scene involving a rookie prostitute, but everything else about the movie was half baked. Not Woody’s worst, but towards the bottom. I feel as though the creative roll Woody had been on since Midnight in Paris has come to an end.

    But then what do I know? I absolutely adored Irrational Man and rank it among Allen’s very best, and Magic in the Moonlight is a comforting joy every time I watch it. I’m a bit surprised at the largely positive reviews for Cafe Society. Perhaps subsequent viewings–there are always “subsequent viewings” with Allen films–will change my negative view of this promising but hugely disappointing film.

  2. Hey CK. Good comments – I agree with a lot of it. Here’s the thing – this film was cut to shreds. Not just the Bruce Willis bits that they couldn’t reshoot. There are photos released of scenes we never saw. Maybe it will make more sense when we get the extended director’s cut on DVD…which is never.

  3. Honestly, the worst part of the movie (in my opinion), was the narration. Yes, we all know it’s Woody and normally that would be a good thing. No longer. I think many have tiptoed around the fact the narration was uninspired and, sadly, it was slurred. Why Woody felt like he had to do the narration makes no sense when you hear it. I don’t think anybody bothered, dared, pick-you-word to tell him that he sounds bad and the slurring was a distraction from his own movie.

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