In the latest outing, Woody Allen whisks us away to the glamorous land of 1930s hollywood where a young jewish man, Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg), travels from New York City to the west coast, working for his talent agent uncle (Steve Carell), only to fall for his secretary (Kristen Stewart) who is already committed in a relationship.
Before he knows it, Bobby is swept up into the world of high society nightclubs where the stars socialize frequently. Café Society hits all of the beats of a Woody Allen film featuring his trademark witty banter and elegant art-direction, but oh is it ever so lovely. After receiving constant disappointments throughout the summer with failed blockbusters such as “Warcraft” and juvenile children’s films such as “Ice Age: Collision Course”, it’s refreshing to receive a quaint little film that entertains without needing crazy explosions or CGI animals. Allen reminds us of the magic that used to be present in films and how a simple story with excellent performances can result in a compelling tale.
Eisenberg’s Bobby is a character Allen clearly wrote for himself to play, it’s the usual fast-talking, handsome jewish character he’s known for playing, however one of his smartest decisions was taking a step back and letting Eisenberg bring new life into the tired schtick. We’ve seen this character before, but Jesse Eisenberg brings a sense of endearment to the role rather than cockiness. This is a character trying to figure things out, and he’s struggling with everything, not once does he feel he’s above it. The films other shining star is Kristen Stewart who, yet again, proves she’s a very talented actress. She absolutely nails the 1930s, perky secretary role, but unfortunately drifts back and forth between a more realistic approach and the flashy theatrical tone Allen is aiming for. Steve Carell felt miscast, but did a decent job with the material. Blake Lively goes underused in a character that doesn’t seem to add much to the film when she first appears in the third act.
The third act of this film is where most of my issues arise from. After a pretty great two-thirds (albeit, simple and light-hearted) the film begins to spiral into a bit of a mess. Subplot after subplot pile on, with many of them feeling unnecessary until they are abruptly put to end in a rush fashion. When the subplot involving Bobby’s criminal brother takes up a majority of the screen time in the last half hour, I was both disappointed and confused as to why Blake Lively was set aside so abruptly. Despite the warmth the cast and the dialogue brings to the film, it has this overall “staged” look to it. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s shot on digital as opposed to film, but the entire movie almost looked like it was shot on a green screen. It’s clearly not, due to the depth of field most shots have, but it’s very strange. Luckily, I was able to get sucked into the world and it didn’t distract me too much after I warmed up to it’s theatrical nature.
Café Society is exactly what you’d expect from a Woody Allen film, only it’s a lot more playful and theatrical than his more recent films, something both refreshing and comforting. Anyone looking for a lovely night out at the cinema will be delighted and expect some Oscar Buzz later in the year for Eisenberg and Best Original Screenplay.