Bil’s rating (out of 5): B. USA, 2016. FilmNation Entertainment, Gravier Productions, Perdido Productions. Screenplay by Woody Allen. Cinematography by Vittorio Storaro. Produced by Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum, Edward Walson. Production Design by Santo Loquasto. Costume Design by Suzy Benzinger. Film Editing by Alisa Lepselter.
Woody Allen reaches a career low with this tired and charmless period piece. Jesse Eisenberg heads out to Los Angeles and goes to work for his uncle (Steve Carell), a successful Hollywood agent who gives him a job as an errand boy. Eisenberg meets Carell’s assistant (Kristen Stewart) and, unaware that she and his uncle are secretly having an affair, begins a friendship with her that quickly turns into true love. When he learns of their deception, he challenges Stewart to choose between her heart and financial security and, as a result of her choice, goes back to New York where he becomes the host of a swanky nightclub. Finding a new love and a new command in life, Eisenberg’s satisfaction is thrown into crisis when Carell and Stewart make a visit to the Big Apple and the two are reunited. The glittering scenes of 1930s Hollywood and the soiree life of Manhattan are dazzling to look at thanks to Vittorio Storaro’s glinty cinematography, but gorgeous period detail has been a fixture of many a Woody Allen film and is here a paltry reward for a bland story that moves much too slowly and with little sympathy. Most shocking for a film in Allen’s cannon is that it features a host of bad performances, topped by a brash and impenetrable Eisenberg in the lead: where many of the actors Woody hires to stand in for his nebbishy personality adequately portray his neurotic self-doubt combined with sweet romantic vulnerability, Eisenberg just comes off as obtuse and ignorant, unjustifiably curt and making us wonder why he gets so far with two beautiful women in one film. Stewart is lovely as his romantic interest and Blake Lively as the second girl to capture our hero’s heart comes off as charming as she does sexy, but other than the two of them and a few brief moments with a wonderful Parker Posey, the cast seems confused and ill-prepared (since when does Jeannie Berlin not look like she knows her lines?) A sideline plot involving Eisenberg’s gangster brother played by Corey Stoll is poorly slotted in and is the film’s biggest ripoff from Bullets Over Broadway, while the disappointed love plots of Annie Hall, Broadway Danny Rose and The Purple Rose of Cairo and some of the moral questioning of Crimes and Misdemeanors (via Eisenberg’s also badly unwritten brother in law) fill out the rest.