“Cafe Society” review: Though it’s not a remake, this lackluster film — with its trademark Woody Allenisms — seems like one.
Maybe Woody Allen waited too long to make “Café Society”; it seems, weirdly, to be an uninspired remake of itself. Set in the 1930s, as a young man from the Bronx tries to get a toehold in Hollywood, it’s meant to be a comedic yet poignant story of love, ambition and show business. Instead, it’s a pale lamppost in an increasingly fading career.
Movie Review ★★
‘Café Society,’ with Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Corey Stoll, Parker Posey, Blake Lively, Jeannie Berlin, Ken Stott. Written and directed by Woody Allen. 96 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some violence, a drug reference, suggestive material and smoking. Several theaters.
Now in his 80s, Allen still makes a movie every year, but the effort shows here. The magic of “Midnight in Paris” or the character work of “Blue Jasmine” seem a lifetime away. So many Allen trademarks are present: the nostalgic setting and music, the neurotic young male lead (Jesse Eisenberg, nervously muttering), the romantic triangle involving a young woman (Kristen Stewart, in hair ribbons and bobby socks) and a much older man (Steve Carell). Even Allen himself is here, as a voice-over narrator dropping in bits of unnecessary information (the grand movie houses of the past, we’re told, weren’t too expensive) and vaguely literary exposition. (“And then one evening, in walked the past.”)
None of this is terrible, and some of it is very pleasant: Stewart’s endearingly sweet performance, cinematographer Vittorio Storaro’s butter-yellow light, designer Santo Loquasto’s Art Deco sets, Carell’s fast-talking Old Hollywood name-dropping. And its road-not-taken final moments hint at something genuinely touching — the quiet shadow of a romance that might have been. But it just mostly feels a little tired, a bit lazy — an expensive sketch of a movie, or a song we’ve already heard.