CAFE SOCIETY—–Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart: now there’s a romantic couple. Woody Allen’s 47th film, served in 2016, is one of his weakest. Narrated by the 80-year old writer-director with the energy of someone who’s done this 46 times already, you forget it before it’s over, before individual scenes are over. Maybe #48 will have him course correct again as he’s periodically steered from other worn grooves into fresh tracks (witness Midnight In Paris), but this one is more like a trench. Looks good, anyway.
Hollywood in the 30s. High-roller agent ‘Phil Stern’ (Steve Carell, giving it what he can) is sandbagged by relatives to find a job for nebbish-schmuck nephew ‘Bobby Dorfman'(Eisenberg). What are the odds? Charm isn’t the first word that takes cuts in line to describe Eisenberg: it’s somewhere behind unctuous and abrasive, and if one was casting lures into the actress pool for a chemistry bite Stewart doesn’t exactly tickle you to jump out of the car on the freeway and start dancing.
Name-dropping dead movie stars like mad, the script doesn’t convince of the period, and neither do the actors—all of whom sound like Woody Allen Characters instead of real people. Eisenberg is the latest in a line of Allen’s leading men who don’t just speak his dialogue but affect impersonations of his mannerisms and speech patterns, and this actor really piles it on. With Allen’s droning narration– -so tired it seems like he’s imitating himself— and Jesse as Woody, it passes indulgence into insufferable. Things perk up briefly when Blake Lively arrives: showing how good she really is in order to pretend to be entranced by the Allen-Eisenberg protodip. Along with the lively Blake, the art direction is eye-catching, with camera work from Vittorio Storaro bathing the sets and costumes in valiant simulacrum of old-time La La, but the vapid story just sits there in monotony like one of L.A.s creaking oil derricks or vacant parking spaces.
A lame waste of Carell, Lively, and the estimable Parker Posey and Corey Stoll. Somehow the $18,000,000 budget ballooned up to $30,000,000, the most ever for an Allen project. Bad news, as grosses stuck at $43,800,000 and reviews ranged from muted, career-respectful applause to impatient, shtick-fatigued yawns. 96 minutes, with Jeannie Berlin, Ken Stott, Anna Camp (in a particularly uncomfortable scene as a hooker), Paul Schneider, Sheryl Lee and Tony Sirocco. C’mon, Woody, you can do it again–just get out of your own self-reverential way.