Looking for an exciting career, young Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) leaves New York for the glitz and glamour of 1930s Hollywood. After landing a job with his uncle Phil (Steve Carell), Bobby falls for Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), a charming woman who happens to be his employer’s mistress. Settling for friendship but ultimately heartbroken, Bobby returns to the Bronx and begins working in a nightclub along with his brother Ben (Corey Stoll). Everything falls into place when he finds romance with a beautiful socialite named Veronica (Blake Lively), until Vonnie walks back into his life and captures his heart once again.
There aren’t many writer/directors more prolific than Woody Allen. Here he is once again with another romantic-comedy set during the time of old Hollywood. The story here is about a young man named Bobby Dorfman (Eisenberg) who decides to leave New York and move to Hollywood to start a new life along with the help of his agent uncle named Phil (Carell). Once there, he falls for Phil’s secretary named Vonnie (Stewart) with whom she has a secret relationship with. When their relationship falls apart, he moves back to New York to work in a nightclub with his brother Ben (Stoll). Things appear to get better for Bobby when he falls in love with a socialite named Veronica (Lively) but once Vonnie shows up again, they start to change.
In terms of Woody Allen films, this one fits the norm, so expect the usual cast of kooky characters and witty dialogue. This is most evident with Bobby himself who is just an extension of Allen. Technically Allen is speaking to us through the film but he did this the most through Bobby. While the character wasn’t exactly groundbreaking, it was hard to imagine anyone other than Eisenberg playing the part as his personality just matches Allen’s trademark neuroticism. Since he was the lead character, the film either succeeds or fails depending on his likeability. While he didn’t quite fail, he didn’t exactly succeed either. This wasn’t all his fault as we was good here but we never got a real chance to get invested in him. The film used narration which was a little distracting and frequent time jumps that glossed over important plot and character development.
The film started off well enough with Carell’s uncle Phil in the middle of a glitzy Hollywood party who is then interrupted by a phone call by his sister Rose (Jeannie Berlin), telling him that his nephew Bobby was moving to Hollywood. It looked like it was going to be more about old Hollywood, perhaps in the vein of Hail, Caesar, but instead focused more on Bobby and his love life. This included his relationship with both Vonnie and Veronica. The better pairing was Bobby and Vonnie because of their chemistry. Being Eisenberg and Stewart’s third film, this wasn’t too hard for them as they still had it here.
Bobby’s journey was interesting but wasn’t overly compelling. This was due to reasons mentioned above and the fact that the plot moved so slowly and was seemingly going nowhere which made the film feel boring for long stretches. What didn’t help the film’s case was that besides Bobby, Vonnie, or Phil, it was hard to care about any of the other characters as they were not interesting. While the Hollywood half was promising, it could have gone much further. Because of the unexplained time gap, the New York did not have as big an impact.
Despite the film’s boring nature, the performances were good all around as Allen always seems to get the best out of his cast and the dialogue definitely doesn’t hurt. The best part of the film has to be the soundtrack and the cinematography. The jazz music from the 20s and 30s was cool to listen to. The film was beautiful to look at and did a great job at capturing the time period.
Overall, the film had promise and has great pieces but just failed in its execution, leaving a pretty yet boring film.