By Angel Santana
Woody Allen’s new film, “Café Society,” features some of the most flawless actors in Hollywood today: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart and Steve Carell. Allen is a highly respected director and is one of the most experienced directors alive. While the film has a lot of potential, it falls short.
Taking place in the 1930s, Eisenberg plays an awkward, ambitious young man named Bobby Dorfman who leaves his bickering parents, gangster brother and loving sister in New York to pursue an acting career in Los Angeles. His uncle, Phil, played by Carell, is a major talent agent who hires Bobby to do odd jobs. Bobby meets Phil’s secretary, Vonnie, played by Kristen Stewart, and falls in love with her. However, Vonnie has a boyfriend.
Unfortunately, the movie lacks scenes of conflict. Any controversy in the film is dealt with easily; when tragedies happen, the characters quickly move on. Eisenberg doesn’t show emotions of discomfort and lacks a memorable personality. He just accepts the shortcomings in the film and doesn’t get angry.
The characters are also poorly developed. By the end of the film, I felt that Phil was the same as he was at the beginning. Bobby’s increased cynicism and materialism suggested a shift in character, but this does little to drive the action of the film. Also, Stewart expresses more of a melancholy attitude that makes her seem more pessimistic than optimistic in the film.
The minor characters in the film add little humor. Bobby’s parents often squabble, constantly annoying each other. The film shows that Bobby has a personal connection with his sister, often writing letters to her about how he’s doing. The movie could’ve shown how impactful Bobby’s sister was in his life. Bobby’s brother, Ben, played by Corey Stoll, is a member of the mob who is nevertheless sweet to his family.
It’s an interesting concept, where someone who does illegal activities has a heart and is willing to do anything for his brother. The film misses an opportunity to develop Ben’s character and could’ve made him much more dynamic. Ultimately, the characters left me ambivalent; I did not hate them, but I also didn’t love them.
This is the third film that Eisenberg and Stewart have made together after “Adventureland” in 2009 and “American Ultra” in 2015. The pair worked well together in “Adventureland”. The couple follow a similar plot in this film, where Eisenberg is a hopeful romantic that chases the beautiful Kristen Stewart. Their connection was impressive in “Adventureland,” but in this effort, the chemistry between them falls flat.
The cinematography is phenomenal in the film, a study in aesthetic contrast. Academy Award-winning cinematographer Vittorio Storaro gives New York a dull, gray atmosphere, showing Bobby’s boredom. In Los Angeles, meanwhile, everything seems golden, and the sun is always shining, representing Bobby’s optimism about becoming an actor.
In one scene, Bobby attends a party at Phil’s house. Everyone is wearing beige clothing, while Bobby sticks out in his darker suit. This appears to represent Bobby’s distinctiveness in a crowd of sameness.
Overall, the film had an amazing cast and beautiful aesthetics, but it lacked character development and an entertaining plot. Bobby’s venture into Los Angeles could have been expanded with colorful characters and a plot that moves the story. Instead, its shortcomings overwhelmed its positive aspects. I left the theater disappointed and unfulfilled.