Thursday, August 18, 2016

Café Society Review

It's time yet again for our yearly Woody Allen movie! And when I say yearly Woody Allen movie, I mean that quite literally. Woody Allen has been directing movies since 1966 and between 1966 and now he's only missed six years: 1967, 1968, 1970, 1974, 1976, and 1981. That means he's literally not missed a year from 1982 to the present. Along the way, he's picked up 24 Oscar nominations, mainly for his writing and directing work with one nomination for acting. Out of those 24 nominations, he's taken home four trophies. His movies as a whole have been nominated for a grand total of 53 Oscars with 11 wins, which includes one best picture win, that being 1977's Annie Hall. Yes, that does mean he beat out Star Wars for that best picture win that year. I'd be willing to bet that that's a popular pick for biggest Oscar snub, but as I've not seen Annie Hall, I can't officially judge. Point of all this, though, is to show how legendary of a filmmaker Woody Allen is. Even though he's been very hit and miss for me recently, I have a lot of respect for the man as a filmmaker and I usually try to check out his films when they come out, although I admittedly haven't seen as many of his films as I want to. That's one of my many homework projects right now.

Café Society is Woody Allen's 46th feature-length film that he's directed, which is incredible. If you've seen a lot of Woody Allen's films, you probably know exactly how you feel about them. He has a tendency of being fairly divisive as a lot of people love his films and a lot of people hate his films. As I've mentioned, I haven't seen enough of his films to determine which side I'm on, but recently it's been mostly miss for me. Which is why I'm happy to report that Café Society is a hit for me. But it's a very strange hit for me as I went back and forth in my head quite a bit on this one. The major theme of this movie comes via a quote from Jesse Eisenberg's character: "Life is a comedy written by a sadistic comedy writer." I'm not going to spend time analyzing and discussing that quote, but there's a lot of times where that rings true in life. That's what it feels like, anyways, especially when we get caught up in the moment. Thus the themes of this movie are very strong and thought-provoking. The movie starts out seeming like it will be a by-the-numbers romance drama, but it doesn't take you long at all to realize that it's actually more like a romance drama thrown in a blender. Which is more accurate to what life is actually like. More on that in a bit.

The movie is set in the 1930's and Jesse Eisenberg plays this young man from New York who is tired of his current situation and decides he wants to try his luck over in Hollywood, so he goes over to his uncle, played by Steve Carell, who is a major Hollywood agent to try to find work there. Right off the bat he falls for his uncle's secretary, played by the lovely Kristen Stewart, and the two of them start what is an incredible on-screen romance. This isn't the first time Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg have played love interests in a movie. It's at least the third time that I can think of, the most recent example being the hilariously awesome American Ultra from last year. If you haven't seen American Ultra, I highly recommend it. A very underrated film. Back on track, Eisenberg and Stewart. These two have a perfect spark. They know how to work together and they do a dang good job of it. Thus I was fully invested in this romance drama. In an odd way, I felt like I related to Eisenberg and I wanted him to succeed and get the girl, because he deserved it. But then the movie gets awkward really fast because you find out that Steve Carell, a happily married man of 25 years, is cheating on his wife with the MUCH younger Kristen Stewart and thus we have this uncomfortable love triangle.

The biggest qualm I have with this movie is this love triangle. Thematically it fits what Woody Allen is going for with the movie, but Steve Carell and Kristen Stewart have absolutely no romantic chemistry. Both of them knock their roles out of the park, it's just that the chemistry is not there. The fact that there is a 28 year age gap is probably a big reason for that. In fact, this is starting to become a theme for Woody Allen and I don't know why. There was a 28 year age gap between Colin Firth and Emma Stone in 2014's Magic in the Moonlight and a 14 year age gap between Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone again in last year's Irrational Man. Woody Allen has an obsession with this and he needs to stop because it doesn't work. I get that this happens in real life, especially in Hollywood. Being that this is a movie about the problems with Hollywood that reflects not only with the past, but also the present, this does fit. But there's just no chemistry Steve Carell and Kristen Stewart and thus I had a hard time getting invested in a love triangle when one half of that triangle just didn't connect. Speaking of which, there's another love triangle later on, which I won't go into detail about, that also doesn't work. No age gap here as Blake Lively and Jesse Eisenberg are only four years apart. But there's also zero chemistry there. Thus I got slightly frustrated with the movie.

This isn't the fault of the actors in the movie. They're all fantastic. It's just that sometimes chemistry between two people isn't there. When we have three relationships in the movie and only the relationship between Eisenberg and Stewart makes any sense, it means that the emotional impact of the movie doesn't hit quite as hard as it could've. But major props to all of our leads, especially Eisenberg and Stewart. For the most part I've always loved Eisenberg in his roles. He had a little bump in the road earlier this year as his version of Lex Luthor in Batman v. Superman was atrocious. But outside that he's been great. He's one of my favorite actors working today. Same goes with Kristen Stewart as an actress. She's phenomenal. If you're still hating on her because of Twilight, you need to get over yourself. Like seriously. Wake up and return to 2016. This girl has consistently blown me away, so I will consistently defend her. Camp X-Ray, Clouds of Sils Maria, Still Alice, and American Ultra are great examples of movies you need to watch of you still think Kristen Stewart can't act. In addition to Café Society this year, she's also in Certain Women, Personal Shopper, and Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, so there's plenty of chances this year to check her out and see for yourself.

Now that I've gotten my typical Kristen Stewart soap box out of the way, let's get back on track. Despite some frustrations I had with chemistry issues, there were a lot of times where I wanted to yell at the movie for going in certain directions with the plot. But then every time I felt like screaming, I stopped and started to think about what was happening. The movie is called Café Society and it's about this society where everyone has some serious flaws. I'm not going to detail all of our main characters in the movie out of respect for the movie-going experience. I don't want to spoil things. But every character has some serious flaws to them. Steve Carell is despicable. Kristen Stewart is despicable. A lot of the minor Hollywood characters are despicable. Jesse Eisenberg's family back in New York is full of despicable people. Jesse Eisenberg himself, despite starting out very innocent, also starts to become despicable. This is the point of the movie that Woody Allen is trying to drive home. And it's incredible. If you look at our society right now, there's a lot of despicable people. Despicable people running for president. Despicable people in Hollywood. Then you start thinking about your own life and you start to wonder if you are a despicable person yourself. Yes, this is a movie that's a reflection of Hollywood. But it's also a reflection on all of us. No one is perfect.

Also thematically, there's a recurring theme of both romance and choices. First with romance, life isn't like your typical Hollywood romance drama. It's not always wrapped in a lovely little bow. Sometimes things happen that just plain out suck. Yes, I can be a hopeless romantic at times, especially when I'm watching movies. I want the happy ending. I want things to work out. I want the guy to get the girl. But I think sometimes we come to expect that too often and thus when a movie comes around that takes your typical romance drama and throws it in a blender, it's easy to scream and complain that things didn't work out like they should've. But many times that's actually more realistic to what happens in real life. Romance can be amazing and dating can be phenomenal. But it can also be the most stressful, frustrating thing. I've had many experiences where I thought there was chemistry between me and girl only to learn that she has chosen someone else. It's a harsh jab in the heart. That also leads to this idea of choices. Sometimes we make choices in life that we regret later. But we're forced to live with the consequences of those choices. And that can suck, too. These are all things that this movie dives into quite well. Thus I wanted to be frustrated at first, but when I stopped to think about everything, I was instead blown away by what this movie did.

No, this isn't a perfect movie from Woody Allen. But when you've directed 46 movies in 51 years, not everyone of them is going to be a slam dunk. But in my opinion this is a pretty solid outing from Woody Allen. The emotion in the movie didn't hit quite as hard as it could've due to their being no chemistry at all between Kristen Stewart and Steve Carell as well as none between Jesse Eisenberg and Blake Lively. Only the romance between Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart was believable. But despite this, all of the actors in this movie were at the top of their game. And the movie took me for quite the emotional ride. There were a lot of plot twists throughout that I didn't see coming that made me scream in frustration. But in every instance, I stopped to think about what happened and the more I thought about it, the more I was totally sold. Life is a comedy written by a sadistic comedy writer. That's the theme here. Honestly it's quite relatable at times because of us not being able to see the bigger picture. Café Society is a thought-provoking film with a lot of powerful themes that I was able to grasp onto and relate with. It's not a movie wrapped in pretty bow, but life is often not wrapped in a pretty bow either, so I really respected that. My grade for Café Society is a 8/10.

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