Neither bad nor particularly memorable, Woody Allen's latest offering is a somewhat entertaining ode to Hollywood's golden era.
Director, writer, producer, actor… you name it and Woody Allen has done it. An efficient and reliable Hollywood movie making machine, Allen is one of the best known names in the industry when it comes to explorations of love, sex, the hardworking American and, of course, New York city.
His latest output, Café Society, explores all of this but above all the film is an homage to the golden era of Hollywood. It tells the story of Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg), a young man who moves from New York to Los Angeles with the intention of making it in the movie industry, potentially with some help from his uncle Phil (Steve Carell). Along the way, Bobby falls for Phil’s assistant Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), though he finds himself back in New York soon enough and is swept into the world of New York nightclubs and socialites.
One of the film’s main strengths is Allen’s presentation of America from this era; the cinematography is excellent, the costumes and make up evoke impressions of glitz and glamour from the stars of old, and the settings are gorgeously designed. The visuals of Café Society are executed with great panache.
In addition to this, there are a handful of great performances. It goes without saying that Carell (as he has been in all his recent roles) is fantastic, providing a confident and fully realised performance as the Hollywood big wig, even if the character he plays is written in a rather generic way. Stewart also provides a good performance as the film’s romantic interest; continuing to improve her body of work since her emotionless, dead pan Twilight days, Stewart is an ever-evolving actress committed to her reinvention. Parker Posey, Ken Stott and Corey Stoll all provide fun little supporting roles too – Stoll particularly gets some great comedic moments that are played rather offhandedly and are littered across the film for some proper comedic respite among some of Allen’s other hit and miss comedic dialogue.
However, the story of the film itself does leave little to be desired. It never quite draws us in or fully enamours us; it’s difficult to feel fully invested in the story with Bobby as the central protagonist. Eisenberg isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just that his character feels a little lazily written and it’s tough to feel fully invested in his struggles and his relationship with Stewart. The good supporting performances also receive far too little screen time; they step in and out of scenes far too quickly and leave us wanting more of them and less of the frequently average and occasionally mundane content on screen. It fails to invoke or inspire any sort of vicarious experiences in the way that Allen can at his best. It’s a pretty picture, but by no means an immersive piece of art.
Café Society is in no way a bad film at all, there is plenty to admire and for die hard Allen fans it should be more than satisfactory. However it fails to fully stand out and be anything better than “good”. You could do a lot worse though.
Café Society (2016), directed by Woody Allen, is distributed by Amazon Studios and Lionsgate, Certificate 12A.