Hollywood – a topic that’s been coming up in my life a lot, lately,thanks to all the writers living in and chronicling about Los Angeles. I dim all the lights, shut the rest of the world because I’m excited to watch this new flick (relatively) and its a Woody Allen product starring Steve Carell; Blake Lively, Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart and some other great actors I discovered after watching the movie. Of course there are expectations when you sit to watch a Woody Allen. He has given me a bunch of favorites right from Annie Hall to – silence – Midnight in Paris. He supplies images of Paris, New York and Los Angeles rendered in his eccentricity and yet old-worldly charm. And I lap it up like a greedy kitten – as all dreamers do.
The starting looked promising – oh wait, have I revealed too much, already? – with Phil Stern (Carell)- a Hollywood power-broker – getting a call from his sister (who almost seems estranged because she has to remind him that she’s his sister and that Bobby is his nephew). And one fine morning Bob (Jesse) lands up in Hollywood hoping that it will provide him the break he needed from working in his father’s jewelry-making business. And there he has to wait almost a month to just see his Uncle who seems pretty reluctant in offering him any substantial position at all but agrees to introduce him to people and give him odd-jobs to keep him going. And that’s when he meets Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) and things take a sharp turn (expected) as he falls in love with her as they eat cheap mexican dinners and drive around L.A. They joke up about the stars and the hollowness of it all. Bob is soon left dry by Hollywood’s prospects for him. So he decides to join Ben – his mysterious (not to us) who starts a Nightclub in the Big Apple. He wants Vonnie to join him and asks her to marry him (in the most un-movie-ish way). Here, I’d like to mention how refreshing it was to see a man not taking the trouble to wait for the opportune moment- by which time the girl has totally lost all hope that he’ll ever ask her and ends up proposing herself out of pure exasperation – which has become a fashion. I have no qualms with the woman taking control but its just that that theme has been used too much, already) and telling the love of his life what he plans for them. The only trouble (there has to be one, right?) is that she is still not over her ex who had broken up with her because he couldn’t break his 25 year-old marriage. But poor Bob has not a clue that she is having major second thoughts because the ex is a magnetic personality and his charm is well, too charming to simply let go. As it ends out – things don’t work out and end half-hearted-ly. I can’t divulge anything more without spoiling it for you. And what happens then? Does he move to New York and start again or remains a lovelorn – fidgeting loner trying to get something meaningful done?
You must be wondering where Blake Lively makes an entry, right? Well, she does – even though for short bursts – her fabulous presence can never be under-stated.
So basically its Woody Allen overstating his qualms about religions and the sanctity of human beings and their decisions. He chose Hollywood and New York (his favorite city, undoubtedly) as the backdrop to portray how people are faced with to be or not to be situations and the fact that not all decisions are thought-through. You just make them with a whim and you live with it in all its entirety. Regrets ruminate in your mind till you start looking dreamy-eyed. Dreams remain dreams. Your ideals dwindle. But the lights in these big cities come back to life at dusk.
Critics applauded Kristen. Maybe I’m just a bad critic and I haven’t watched enough Stewart movies but isn’t shy-weird-confused her natural state? She plays it best every single time. Its her comfort zone. So why are we calling Jesse’s- who’s portrayal of Woody’s alter-ego is on-point- mediocre and fidgety compared to someone who is just doing what they were born as? Guess what – that’s how he was meant to act like. But the performances that really shined through were those of Bob’s Jewish family who keep debating about all things political, religious, ethical – actually just about everything. Jeannie Berlin (Mom) and Ken Stott – please take a bow. Right from their conversations and cursing to the they kind of stitch Bob’s life by coming in every now and then.
So, Cafe Society shows us a glimpse of the 1930’s – on two canvasses – one is the glamour of Hollywood attracting dreamers to its hollowness; golden beaches and sly embrace and New York where the life of stocks and its people are moving at a pace no one seemed to comprehend in that age. It was a time when thugs and high society mingled in glamour (wait, am I living in a deja-vu era because isn’t it happening even now?). The movie shows a beautiful contrast between the two cities and struggles of human conscience but falls short in its predictability and un-digestible pace.
Its not Woody’s best but it did have his madness in it. I know all his movies end up becoming about himself. Now, there’s a real artist who makes you stop and look.
Parting comments : Dreamy, makes you expect more but falls short on delivering a movie that can be applauded.