When I was reviewing the campaign for Cafe Society, the latest movie from writer/director Woody Allen, it struck me as a loose, fun and pretty interesting movie. I like Allen’s movie in general but am not a huge fan that can quote chapter and verse. So the marketing worked for me more or less.
The story is *very* Allen. Jesse Eisenberg plays Bobby, a young man who’s sick and tired of life in the Bronx in the 1930s. So he takes advantage of having an uncle who’s a bigtime Hollywood agent to move to Los Angeles to try and find his life there. He meets, through his uncle, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) a young woman who he instantly becomes smitten with. The two have an up-and-down relationship but when she finally leaves him he moves back to New York to help work his brother’s nightclub. It’s in that life that he meets Veronica (Blake Lively), another love interest who he winds up marrying. But feelings for Vonnie continue and complicate things for Bobby’s future.
The movie itself isn’t too bad, though it immediately feels like lesser Allen. The movie doesn’t have the same zip and style that was on display in the trailer, which is too bad. Instead it feels more than a little wooden and stagy, a symptom largely of Eisenberg being game for Allen’s dialogue but falling into the trap of doing an Allen impersonation. Stewart…this may actually be my favorite performance of hers, even if the character itself is a bit cliched. She really inhabits the character and does more with it than was on the page. Unfortunately the same can’t be said of Lively, who’s basically asked to smile nicely and whose character doesn’t have any real motivation, with the script offering nothing that earns the changes she goes through, they just happen.
And that’s my problem with the movie as a whole. One of the side effects of Allen’s “here’s this year’s movie” production schedule is that I don’t know how many drafts some of these scripts go through. And this one could have used a bit more tightening up. Allen’s voice is loud and clear here, but it could have used another editing pass at least to cut out some fat. That’s on display in the trailer with the “Life is a comedy….written by a sadistic comedy writer” line that has always rung awkwardly to me due to the double use of the word “comedy.” Take out that second usage and the joke lands a little more firmly. The whole movie is full of such instances, where a bit more editing would have allowed some of the lines to have a bit more impact.
Again, it’s not the worst Allen movie out there. But it’s also not the best by any stretch. But the marketing for it never really sold the story very accurately, nor does it accurately convey the movie’s attitude or style. It’s not the most jarring gap, but it is notable.