The perennial Woody Allen’s new film, Café Society, is a smorgasbord of pluses and minuses that add up to maybe five, a romantic dramedy set in the 1930s that, let’s just say, seems like old times.
It revolves around a young man (the perpetually uncharismatic Jesse Eisenberg) who leaves his family’s jewelry business in New York to move to Hollywood, where he works for his uncle (Steve Carell, rather miscast), a big-shot agent. There he meets a captivating woman (Kristen Stewart, the poor man’s Scarlett Johansson) who’s involved with a married man. Complications ensue, people change, and everyone talks about it, then they talk about it some more.
Parker Posey (surprisingly crisp), Blake Lively (unusually charming), Jeannie Berlin (forgotten but not gone) and the fine Corey Stoll complete the cast, who speak Allen’s profundo staccato dialogue with vigor and gravity, accompanied by Allen’s wizen narration. It’s only creepy twice, and once again Allen ponders notions of life, death, love, success, happiness and Jews. The music is period standards, the look sumptuous (photographed by Vittorio Storaro), the script unusually humorless, or else just not very funny. (Lively gets the best line: Dating a Jew plays into her “rebellious stage.”) There’s a better movie in it somewhere, but it would take an artist less concerned with his own ego — and less versed in his own oeuvre — to make it.