As always the summer film season would not be complete without an entry from Woody Allen, and with his newest film, Café Society, getting a wide release this past weekend, the summer tradition will survive for another year. Also keeping with tradition, due to the high volume of films that Allen has been able to put out, more often than not, a lot of his films are either rich with the qualities that has made Allen such a beloved figure in cinema, or for the lack of a better term forgettable. While Café Society seemed like it would add another notch to Allen’s filmography by falling into the hit column, it quickly found itself in the forgettable bunch of Allen films.
For many that are in love with cinema, the golden age of Hollywood is a time period many fixate on due to the prestige and lore that originated from it. Its only fitting that someone like Allen, who is so entrenched in film history, would pen a love letter to this era in a film sometime throughout his career. Unfortunately, unlike his love letter to Paris and the 20’s in Midnight in Paris, Café Society does not seem as thought provoking or having any substance for that matter. While a large part of the film revolved around substance versus appearance, the film itself was lacking in the former. Looking back on the film it really felt like a film made by someone who likes Woody Allen films but does not quite understand the fine details that make them work so well. Café Society made sure to include the neurotic Woody Allen inspired character as the lead, but did not really make him deep enough to be lovable like Gil in Midnight in Paris. It had the quirky and off beat humor littered throughout, but it did not seem like the highbrow intelligent humor that made Annie Hall a classic. But most importantly, the biggest feeling that was absent in the film was the different perspective on life that his films usually conclude with after being built up through the film’s plot. Usually, this is the element in Allen’s films that highlights his true genius by showing that many can throw together some laughs and quirky characters but it takes talent to make a lasting impression on the audience and provide them with a different outlook on life. Conversely, all Café Society seemed to do was skate around actually saying something profound.
In most cases like this, it is not only hard to watch but nearly impossible to appreciate a film that leaves the audience this unsatisfied in terms of story but from a technical standpoint the cinematography of Vittorio Storaro provided the film with some redeeming value. While the love letter to golden age Hollywood may not have accurately captured the emotional values associated with it, the aesthetic connotations were prominent. Nearly every frame of the Hollywood sequences in the film showcase a wide color pallet of warm sunset oranges and cool ocean blues that keep the audience alert for the next scene so they can reveal in more colors. Yet it’s not just the colors in Storaro’s cinematography that keeps the audience engaged, but also the long takes that are carefully executed due to the well thought out staging from Allen.
When the initial trailers for Café Society out earlier this year many waited in anticipation for what would hopefully be another gem from Allen late in his career, instead what we got was a passion project from Allen that felt too rushed and thus deprived of its usual charm. Which is quite unfortunate, as Jessie Eisenberg really does seem to capture young Woody Allen quite well and if given the proper material could really channel much of the quirky elements Allen’s filmography is known for. Needless to say, I was quite let down with Café Society, as a whole and those that do not watch films for the aesthetics will agree. As a result Allen’s latest film Café Society receives 2 out of 5 Reels from Celluloid Cinema.
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