“CAFE SOCIETY” My rating: B-
96 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13
It’s tough getting a handle on Woody Allen’s “Cafe Society.”
It’s not a drama, certainly. Its approach is too tangential and distant for any sort of emotional intensity.
But it’s not exactly a comedy, either. Despite a few chuckles there’s a noted paucity of laugh lines, and those bits of dialogue that do register are noteworthy not for their hilarity but rather for their weary resignation. (“Life is a comedy written by a sadistic comedy writer.”)
And despite being set in 1930s Hollywood, it has none of the nostalgic warmth of “Radio Days,” Allen’s memorable reverie about growing up in NYC in the glory days of radio.
So what does “Cafe Society” have going for it?
Well, good performances from Kristen Stewart and Blake Lively, spectacularly good cinematography from Vittorio Storaro (“Apocalypse Now,” “The Last Emperor”) and detailed production design courtesy of Allen’s frequent collaborator Santo Loquasto.
As the picture begins young Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) has fled his suffocating home in the Bronx (Jeannie Berlin and Ken Stott are his bickering parents) to tackle life in wide-open Los Angeles. He hopes to get a job from his uncle Phil (Steve Carell), a Hollywood agent who drops celebrity names with the frequency with which the rest of us use words like “a” and “the.”
Phil is so busy (or self centered) that he keeps Bobby cooling his heels for weeks. (It must be noted that unlike your usual Allen protagonist, someone who’s hugely clever and bent on a career in the arts, Bobby is pretty much an average guy.)
Finally Phil sees the kid and assigns his girl Friday, Vonnie (Stewart), to show his nephew around Tinsel Town.
Between gawking at the homes of the stars the two youngsters hit it off. But unbeknownst to Bobby, Vonnie is having an affair with a married man. This is no small roadblock to their relationship.