REVIEW: Café Society

7 08 2016

Woody Allen haters, whether for his personal life or his professional output, need only look at the basic plot summary of “Café Society” to turn themselves away. On its face, the film repackages one of the most unfortunate clichés propagated by his body of work.

This, of course, is the doomed love triangle where a young, sexually blooming woman is courted by two men; one is an older and more distinguished gentleman, while the other is a younger but more intellectually and romantically capable match. Such a formation often seems like Allen wants to have it both ways, where his older and younger personas form a kind of sexual yin and yang.

This risible, repetitive plot invention looms over “Café Society,” imbuing every gorgeous frame from Vittorio Storraro’s lens with a faint stench of retrograde gender politics. In that way, the film plays a role similar to that friend you know has substance issues but dispenses valuable nuggets of drunk wisdom.

Look past the love triangle and beyond the outmoded attitudes, and “Café Society” marks Woody Allen at peak nostalgic autobiography. A few of the bad elements are here, sure, but much of the beauty and torment that marks Allen’s best work is present as well. From his culturally Jewish upbringing to his loathing of Hollywood and even his bleakly optimistic outlook on life, the film feels somewhat akin to a superhero origin story.

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REVIEW: Margaret

30 04 2013

MargaretIt’s hard to talk about authorial intent in “Margaret” when the studio interference on the project was so insane.  Long story short for those who don’t know: the movie was supposed to be released in 2007, but Kenneth Lonergan failed to lock in a cut to Fox Searchlight’s satisfaction.  Ultimately, they quietly dumped a version of “Margaret” into the theaters that was much shorter that Lonergan would have liked.

And indeed, what I saw in the theatrical cut (sorry, folks, did not drop the money to watch the director’s cut) was a little messy.  But for whatever reason, that didn’t bother me.  I was along for the ride with “Margaret” the whole way through, drawn in to the story by its imperfections.

There’s something very fascinating about knowing that a movie’s flaws are not something invented in your head.  And in such a realization, you can start to find the diamond in the rough by peeling away the layers of sloppiness you observe.  “Margaret” in its very journey to the screen is not about the drudgery of life but rather the painful process of art.  There’s a little bit of magic in getting to find your “Margaret” inside of what Fox Searchlight and Lonergan slapped together for us to avoid litigation.

My “Margaret” is a compelling drama of post-9/11 guilt and anger unfolding in New York City, told from the perspective of an ordinary girl, Anna Paquin’s Margaret.  On just any old day walking, she observes the death of innocence at the hands of a vast piece of machinery.  No, I’m not talking about the planes flying into the World Trade Center; I’m talking about a sweet old lady being struck and killed by a bus.

I don’t want to overload the allegory, though, but it’s impossible not to feel the legacy of the tragic day looming over all the proceedings.  On a human scale, it’s an affecting tale of a mother (J. Smith-Cameron’s powerfully acted Joan) and daughter, a teacher (Matt Damon’s earnest Mr. Aaron) and a student, as well as victims, perpetrators, and observers.  And that’s the beauty of watching the imperfect “Margaret” – doing your own internal rack focusing is not just encouraged.  It’s practically required to make sense of the events.  B+3stars