Cannes 2016: Café Society

I covered Cannes Film Festival this year and I will post my reviews on here daily. My pieces are on a website known as The Upcoming and have been published in something called Swipe magazine. 

Woody Allen opens this year’s Cannes with a light, forgettable and occasionally funny feature that reaps a lot of currency out of its thirties period setting and a few lively performances from its leads, Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg. But the film is undone by the usual problems associated with Allen’s yearly output: a seemingly rushed screenplay, a plot that goes nowhere and a tendency for Allen to ogle his female characters rather than explain them.

Bobby (Eisenberg) arrives in Hollywood seeking success and fortune. He leaves behind New York and his family: a persistent, bickering mother (Jeannie Berlin), a lapsed Jewish father (a gurgling Ken Stott) and a violent gangster brother (an underused Corey Stoll). Bobby, paradoxically cocksure and neurotic, is sent to his agent-schmoozer uncle (Steve Carrell) to gain a foothold in the burgeoning film industry. There, he falls in love with down-to-earth but somewhat enigmatic Vonnie (Stewart), thus beginning a strangely placid love triangle that sees Vonnie fail to fully disconnect from her elder lover, dragging questions of love, fidelity and marriage from Hollywood all the way back to New York.

Eisenberg aptly channels Allen’s neuroses in the lead character – the performance verges on parody at times – but displays enough nuance in the role that it resists being completely ludicrous. Carrell, on the other hand, imbues his performance with a distinct lethargy (Josh Brolin in Hail, Caesar! was much more interesting and funny in a similar role).

There are some good jokes in the film, particularly relating to – you guessed it – the Jewish experience, and Stoll livens up proceedings every time he appears on screen. Allen directs Bobby and Vonnie’s early encounters with subtlety and intrigue, but the direction veers toward the female characters’ physique rather than their expressions and emotional intelligence. Blake Lively, as Bobby’s later love interest, is viewed almost exclusively through her varying states of physical attractiveness. This sadly reflects a film that is at surface titillating, but on further inspection remains insubstantial.

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Published by

Joseph Owen

PhD, Carl Schmitt, Modernism and Sovereignty at University of Southampton

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