WOODY WEDNESDAY Review: ‘Café Society’ is minor, enjoyable Woody Allen Bill Goodykoontz, Gannett4:24 p.m. EDT July 28, 2016

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Café Society Official International Trailer #1 (2016) – Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart Movie HD

Review: ‘Café Society’ is minor, enjoyable Woody Allen

“Café Society” is probably what you’d call a placeholder Woody Allen movie, a small offering between more cerebral offerings, if he’s still making those.

Maybe that’s why I liked it. The film, about Hollywood in the 1930s, reminded me of “Radio Days,” Allen’s 1987 film about the golden age of radio in the 1940s that came after “Hannah and Her Sisters.” Thus it was considered something of a trifle, something to tide us over before he got back to more-serious pursuits.

I loved it, and it remains one of my favorites of his films.

“Café Society” doesn’t rise to the same heights, but it’s certainly enjoyable, beautiful to look at, funny, with good performances. The story isn’t much to speak of and the characters are underdeveloped, but on balance it falls squarely on the “see it” side of the ledger. (Allen’s personal life will keep some people away, but, as ever, this is a judgment on his movie, nothing more.)

Jesse Eisenberg plays Bobby Dorfman, an obvious Allen stand-in. (Allen provides narration in a noticeably shaky voice; then again, he is 80.)

Bobby lives in cramped quarters with his family in the Bronx, but soon sets out for Hollywood unburdened by prospects or ambition, you might say. He figures things will take care of themselves, especially since his uncle, Phil Stern (Steve Carrell), a powerful Hollywood talent agent, lives there.

Not so fast, at least at first. Phil blows Bobby off for a couple of weeks; when he finally deigns to meet with him, Phil doesn’t even remember his name. But he gives Bobby a job running errands and introduces him to Vonnie (Kristen Stewart, outstanding), his English-major secretary. She’s smart and grounded and has little use for the name-dropping culture she inhabits by virtue of her job.

Bobby falls for her immediately.

She seems to like him, too, but says she’s seeing someone else. A pretty obvious love triangle develops, with Bobby wanting to marry Vonnie and take her back to New York to live in the East Village. He doesn’t have a job, but his gangster brother Ben (Corey Stoll) has moved into the nightclub business, and Bobby can run the place, maybe.

Bobby winds up back in New York, indeed running his brother’s nightclub, which becomes a beacon of New York society. (The film is, as much as anything else, a romantic fantasy.) Bobby meets and marries another Veronica (this one played by Blake Lively). They’re happy, and then one night in walks. …

Guess. The movie isn’t particularly hard to figure out and doesn’t try to be. Its charms lie more in what the actors make of characters that could have been cliches (or, if you’re in a kinder mood, archetypes) and its gorgeous look.

It’s hard to imagine an actor better as Allen’s alter-ego than Eisenberg, with his stammering delivery, as if the words are tripping over themselves. Stewart nails the role of a sweet Midwestern girl who has moved to the big city and realizes it’s not going to swallow her whole. Carell patiently proves there is more to Phil than we first would guess.

Jeannie Berlin and Ken Stott are terrific as Bobby and Ben’s bickering parents (bringing to mind, yes, Julie Kavner and Michael Tucker in “Radio Days”).

“Café Society” is, simply, enjoyable, and at this point that’s enough. It’ll probably never make it into anyone’s list of the 10 most-important Allen films. But I’d watch it again over a few movies that would.

REVIEW

‘CAFE SOCIETY’

“Café Society,” about Hollywood in the 1930s, is probably what you’d call a placeholder Woody Allen movie, a small offering between more cerebral offerings, if he’s still making those. PG-13. 96 minutes.

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