Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell
Genre: Drama/ Comedy
In the 1930s, native New Yorker Bobby Dorfman (Eisenberg) moves to Los Angeles to seek the glitz and glamour of tinsel town, and manages to get a job thanks to his uncle (Carell), a highly successful Hollywood agent. There he meets and falls for the beautiful Vonnie (Stewart), but their relationship ends in heartbreak and he returns to New York. Though Bobby finds success in New York and marries the beautiful Veronica (Blake Lively), there is a part of him that remains haunted by his experience in LA, and this is only emphasised when Vonnie and her new fiancé pay a visit to New York.
Every year for a fair few decades we have been treated to a Woody Allen film, he may now be 80, but he still seems to be as prolific as ever. However, though of course his films have always been somewhat of an acquired taste, in the last decade it has felt like a case of quantity over quality. There have been a few flashes of the creative heights that we know he can achieve, but far too often his films seem more than happy to stick to the middle of the road, while frustratingly hinting at being able to go to interesting intellectual places (usually very much in the trademark Dostoyevsky vein) but never really attempting to build on that. Allen’s last film, Irrational Man (review) was a perfect example of this.
Well, Café Society is a further step down as though the solid performances and impressive stylistics certainly render it highly watchable, a real lack of substance does make it extremely hollow and forgettable. There are certainly a few textbook Allen-esque themes that are there throughout the narrative, but they are nowhere enough to stop the film from feeling like a total exercise in self-indulgence with extremely clumsy and ill-disciplined storytelling.
There are if course many pleasures to be had from Café Society; it is certainly a visually stunning film, the incredibly detailed set design is wonderful to look at and does truly capture the era that the film is set in, and this is only enhanced by Vittorio Storaro’s luscious sun-drenched cinematography when the narrative takes place in Los Angeles.
The performances too are all excellent; though he only ever really plays himself, Jesse Eisenberg’s trademark jabbering and social awkwardness is the perfect fit for Woody Allen’s own acting style, and he is very watchable throughout the film. The remainder of the supporting cast are also very watchable in their roles, but the fact is that light and fluffy nature of the film puts as little of a demand on the abilities of the actors as it does the intellect of the viewer. Allen’s script too is a little hit and miss; we have some genuinely hilarious moments due to Allen’s trademark dry wit, but the narration which he also vocally provides is very clunky and serves more as an annoying distraction than useful narrative tool.
As the lacklustre plot plods along gently with its abundance of subplots Café Society breezes along quite nicely, but is sadly never anything more than very light entertainment. Even the supposed darker elements of the plot involving Bobby’s gangster brother are presented in a light way. Though the menagerie of subplots and characters do all tie in together in various ways (some admittedly very contrived and convenient), there are a fair few scenes that could have been left out as they add very little to the overall story. The one key theme that ties it all together is obvious throughout, but lacks any true emotional punch, and so leaves Café Society a wafer-light viewing experience that will not live long in the memory.
Though it is certainly very well put together and has the occasional flash of Woody Allen greatness, overall Café Society is a light and fluffy affair that thanks to the stunning visuals and solid performances is certainly highly watchable, but is essentially merely an ultra light aperitif and has nowhere near enough substance to be a main course.