There’s a lot to love in Woody Allen’s rose-tinted love letter to Hollywood’s Golden Era.
Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) is the youngest son of a Jewish family living in New York City; overshadowed by his older siblings, Bobby decides to pack his bags and fly west to work at the movie studio where his Uncle Phil (Steve Carell) calls the shots.
It isn’t long until Bobby is smitten with Phil’s secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), an unpretentious young woman who doesn’t care for the glamour of Hollywood. After a crush turns into romance, Bobby and Vonnie’s lives begin to pull them in different directions and they’re forced to confront the idea that this relationship might become ‘the one that got away’.
A frivolous and effervescent affair that fizzes merrily like a crystal flute of fine champagne, Café Society is a potent mixer of wry irreverence and wistful poignancy that views the good old days and the gorgeous paraphernalia that comes with it through thick rose-tinted lenses. Allen’s screenplay and work behind the camera reveals him to be someone who dreamily reminisces about the past, even if that means sacrificing accuracy for agreeability and predictability. He envisions 1930’s Hollywood as an idyllic and unending cocktail party in a narrative so slight that it might’ve been scribbled onto a back of a beer mat.
That being said, I found a lot to love in Café Society; sure, it doesn’t broach any of its adult themes (adultery, murder) with anything sharper than misty-eyed whimsy, but the likeable cast do a fantastic job of balancing this with jovial charm and the occasional shred of sincerity.
Eisenberg slots back into his gawky indie niche with ease; away from the suffocating clutches of blockbusters like Batman v Superman, he excels as the young upstart who falls head over heels for Stewart’s ‘too cool for school’ attitude. Now in their third collaboration together, Eisenberg and Stewart’s chemistry is what gives this film life, even when they’re not sharing a scene – you feel the connection between their characters because the two actors just click so well.
Blake Lively, Corey Stoll, Anna Camp and Parker Posey flesh out a supporting cast that doesn’t have a weak link. Lively is particularly arresting as Veronica, a sultry siren who glides into Bobby’s life in the second act whilst Stoll’s slimy gangster Ben is pitched as the comic relief – not that the movie really needed another joker in the pack.
However, the MVP doesn’t reside in the cast; that accolade goes to cinematographer Vittorio Storaro for his luminescent camerawork. The lavish costume and set design also pops into life in luscious detail.
When considering its place in Allen’s erratic late-period filmography, Café Society definitely sits closer to gems like Blue Jasmine and Midnight in Paris than misfires like Magic in the Moonlight. Carefree during most of the weirdly paced middle third, it all comes good in the end with a heartening crescendo that feels moving without being maudlin.
The Verdict: 7.5/10
Noteworthy for delivering another excellent performance from Stewart, this is one easy, breezy time at the movies that is worth checking out.
Café Society is in cinemas across Australia from October 20