It's PG-13 in the sense that nothing checklistable happens. The content and the morality in this movie are horrendous. Mental R, checklist PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Woody Allen
I, along with discerning film buffs, have an odd relationship with Woody Allen. There was a time where I consumed everything that Woody has ever made. That's no small task. For those not in the know, Woody Allen makes a movie a year. That's a lot of movies. But since he writes and directs a movie a year, many of these movies might be lacking some degree or another. He tends to plagiarize himself. Some of his movies simply are a compiled carbon copy of his favorite aesthetics from other movies. Since he's older now, he tends to find avatars to play him in these movies. It's more interesting to see whom he chose to play his neurotic characters. This film's carbon copy is Jesse Eisenberg.
Woody Allen has this obsession with justifying infidelity. It is really icky knowing his personal history. In an attempt to find a romantic comedy for my wife and I to enjoy together, I really just brought home one of the most unromantic movies of the year. Woody always makes the assumption that everyone is in a constant state of infidelity. But he does write these characters that are the victims of these situations. Blake Lively in this one has done nothing wrong to deserve what happens to her. This is where Allen is really his weakest. He tends to ignore the fallout of these indiscretions. It is very causal about the damage that Jesse Eisenberg places on the world around him. Allen has to realize that he has created characters that would be completely destroyed by the actions of the selfish protagonists. In this one, Allen ends the movie on a bummer. SPOILER, no one ends up with the person that is implied from the beginning. I don't get this as a message against infidelity so much as Woody Allen just wanted to make a bummer ending because he tends to do that from time to time. Allen's world is one where love really doesn't exist so much as temporary obsession. You know what really sucks the life out a romantic comedy? (The answer is a world where love doesn't exist and everyone cheats on each other and everyone is unhappy.) Part of what makes that not work is that characters make insanely sadistic choices without a care for how normal people work. No one really has a sense of empathy for what other people feel. Lauren said that none of the dialogue feels real, but that it feels like a play. (Many plays have excellent dialogue, but I get what she's getting at.) The reason is that the motivations for all these choices are very superficial. Characters just state what they want without framing it within the basic social contract. There's a moment where Eisenberg comments on the flippancy of Kristen Stewart's forwardness. This moment is so key, but it just flies by on screen. It's very bizarre. Why can't people be human? I know that Woody is known for intellectualism and I love him for it. But he used to make genuine romances. I love Annie Hall. I love Manhattan. These movies are genuinely movie while being slightly surreal. This movie just seems to hate on romance while setting the movie in a very nostalgic era.
There is one part of the movie that I really liked. It was Woody Allen being silly and I really wish I had more of this. The brother gangster stuff really works. The movie is sold as a comedy, but most of the movie wasn't that funny. I laughed out loud for a couple of Woody style jokes, but even those were few and far between. Instead, to break up the awkwardness of the whole situation, there is a subplot where Jesse Eisenberg's brother, Ben, played by Corey Stoll, continues to murder people willy-nilly. I'm currently watching The Godfather Part III, so I'm very into gangsters for the next 24 hours. The absurdity of these moments is desperately needed because this movie almost should be considered a drama. Oh, I'm the kind of guy who would use the term "dramedy". I said "drama" with a straight face. (Mainly because I'm not very expressive while typing. Can you imagine what it would be like if I was?) The movie is awkward. I can't pin too much on some of the actors. Steve Carell is always absolutely fantastic. I suppose Jesse Eisenberg does the job. I think Blake Lively is solid. But then this script just paints everyone as a huge turd. How do we laugh when these characters that are meant to be likable are just bad people? I don't mind a movie about bad people, but those characters know that they are bad people. Woody presents these horrible portraits of humanity and expects us to root for them. Mom is okay, I guess, but she's secondary character in the whole thing. It's odd, because the tone of the movie is whimsical nostalgia. But there's nothing really whimsical with people cheating on each other left and right. The movie could either embrace the fact that it is a drama or it could play up the whole debauchery of the matter by embracing the slapstick elements that show up in one moment of the movie (The next door neighbor sequence). But this movie felt a little lazy. Things didn't work, but it felt like Allen just yelled "cut" and "print."
There was one actress that I've been lying to myself about. I know that people rip Kristen Stewart's acting apart, but I always chalked that up to the fact that people were haters on the Twilight franchise. Then she just kept getting these low energy roles and I didn't think that was her fault. But Café Society isn't low-energy. Kristen Stewart's Vonnie is supposed to be full of life. She's supposed to inspire both an uncle and a nephew to fall madly in love with her. She says things that are supposed to be endearing, but her delivery on these lines is so off. I don't know why anyone would like her. She just plays apathy the entire time and that does not work for this character. This character moved out to L.A. because of her love for the city, but she describes these locations like she was a tour guide. It's odd because the one thing that the movie really had going for it was a love for Tinseltown during the Golden Age. That means that these guys are falling for Stewart because of her attractiveness, which just cheapens the movie even more. It's odd that Eisenberg would be pining for her, especially considering that Lively (pun unintended) brings so much life to each of her lines. She seems genuinely to be in love with Eisenberg. She's joyful and charismatic and a little rebellious. These were all the traits that the original Vonnie were meant to possess. If the actresses were switched, maybe the movie would make sense. But it just seems like Eisenberg is more concerned with not being accepted that motivates him to see her and fantasize around her. Remember, this is meant to be a romantic comedy. I just felt icky.
I really don't like crapping on Woody Allen movies. The man is one of the greatest geniuses of all time, but he can't stop hitting the same beats over and over again. If he quit his annual marathon of movies, he would be chalked up to losing step and I don't want that to happen. But the quality definitely has suffered a few times. There are so many of these movies that I just have no desire to see anymore and Café Society didn't help at all.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.