[Screen It]


(2016) (Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart) (PG-13)

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Dramedy: A young man moves to 1930s era Hollywood where he falls in love with a young woman who's seeing a married man.
It's the 1930s and Bobby Dorfman (JESSE EISENBERG) is a young man from the Bronx who's realized he can't work for the business run by his father, Marty (KEN STOTT), and thus has headed out to Hollywood to seek a new life. His mother, Rose (JEANNIE BERLIN), informs Bobby's uncle, Phil Stern (STEVE CARELL) -- a powerful talent agent -- that he's headed that way and maybe he can help him out. With Phil too busy doing deals, he brings his nephew to industry parties where he meets various movers and shakers, as well as Rad Taylor (PARKER POSEY) who runs a modeling agency back in New York. Phil also has his secretary, Vonnie (KRISTEN STEWART), show Bobby around town, and the young man is instantly smitten with her. Unfortunately for him, she's already seeing someone, but Bobby doesn't learn until later that it's Phil who's cheating on his wife with the much younger woman.

When Phil calls that off, Bobby makes his move and he and Vonnie soon become an item. But when Phil changes his mind once again, Vonnie chooses him over Bobby. Dejected, Bobby returns home and gets a job working at a club run by his brother, Ben (COREY STOLL), a gangster who will eventually help his sister, Evelyn (SARI LENNICK), and her husband, Leonard (STEPHEN KUNKEN), deal with a troublesome neighbor. Bobby also ends up meeting divorcee Veronica (BLAKE LIVELY) and the two hit it off and eventually marry. But when Phil and Vonnie pay a visit to New York, Bobby finds himself drawn back to his former flame and must figure out what to do.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
When it comes to making a film, there's no truly right or wrong way to do so as long as you deliver the goods. Some directors are nitpicky perfectionists, such as the late, great Stanley Kubrick who was known for shooting one scene over and over and over again, and then some. Others, such as Clint Eastwood are known for their decidedly more laidback approach where one and sometimes two takes are all that he needs.

I have no idea how Woody Allen operates, but if his sheer volume of work is any indicator, I'd guess he leans toward the Eastwood side vs. that of Kubrick's never quite satisfied so let's do it again approach. And that's because, over the course of fifty-one years, the writer/director has churned out almost one movie a year on average.

Some have been great, others good, and the rest bad. But you have to give it to the guy. If anything he's proficient, and "Cafe Society" marks his forty-seventh film in a career that started back in '65 with "What's Up, Tiger Lily?"

In this film that, natch, he also wrote, the signature jazz-laden opening credits take us back to the 1930s where a young man from the Bronx (Jesse Eisenberg, sort of playing the signature Allen role but thankfully not aping the actor's mannerisms, cadence and such) decides he can't work for his father anymore and thus moves to Hollywood in hopes of starting a new life there. His mother (like any Jewish matriarch -- all things related to being Jewish generate a lot of the film's humor) calls his uncle (Steve Carell) in hopes that the power talent agent will get his nephew a job.

He eventually does, but not before handing the young man off to his secretary (Kristen Stewart) to show him around town. He's instantly smitten, but she's seeing someone, although he (and we before him) don't realize for a bit that her beau is none other than his married uncle. Their on-again, off-again romance makes young Bobby go through the same thing with Vonnie.

All of which eventually results in him returning home to work for his gangster brother (a funny Corey Stoll if you like broadly painted, comedic renderings of mobsters, including some surprising violence for a film of this genre) in running the latter's club, with Bobby eventually meeting and marrying an attractive divorcee (Blake Lively). But he hasn't completely forgotten about his long-lost true love, especially when she returns into his life, thus leaving him in a quandary.

And that's about it other than some small side pieces about a New Yorker (Parker Posey) who runs a modeling agency and befriends Bobby while in L.A. or the man's sister (Sari Lennick) and communist brother-in-law (Stephen Kunken) who have an issue with their next-door neighbor. Who you gonna call? Well, the gangster's gonna get tapped before the ghostbusters.

Overall, the film is in the middle of the pack of Allen's filmography. It has its moments early on, especially in some of the terrific and funny dialogue as well as a scene where our young protagonist hires a lady of the night for the first time, only to discover it's her first time as well, on top of being a Jewish hooker. Needless to say, it doesn't go as planned for either party.

But one could argue that same observation can be applied to the film. Part loving homage to Hollywood of old as filtered through a love triangle scenario, the pic starts out well enough, but then sort of falls apart and runs out of steam, with Allen's occasional narration and some momentary storyline asides not really ultimately doing much for the pic.

Overall it's an okay offering, but rather than go out with a bang, it concludes with a dismayed whimper and what seems like a tease for "Cafe Society 2." Considering this will not likely be a huge hit and that Allen probably has a bevy of pending films in the pipeline, I wouldn't hold your breath in anticipation of that sequel. As it stands, "Cafe Society" is just entertaining enough to warrant a 5 out of 10 rating.

Reviewed July 18, 2016 / Posted July 22, 2016

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