In this latest effort from Woody Allen we follow a young man named Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) who moves out to Hollywood in the 1930’s to work for his uncle Phil (Steve Carell), a big-shot agent to the stars. Bobby is soon introduced to Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) whom he immediately falls for.
There’s a lot to like in Café Society, not least the performances. Jesse Eisenberg is perfectly cast in the lead role, he brings a nervous, neurotic energy that is crucial for the character of Bobby. If there’s anyone suited for playing these types of roles then it’s Eisenberg. Another stand out is Corey Stoll as Bobby’s older brother Ben, a New York gangster who starts out as the subject of some amusing cutaways but slowly becomes more important as the story unfolds. Kristen Stewart continues to prove that yes, she can in fact act and she has great chemistry with Eisenberg, as we’ve seen in previous films such as American Ultra.
The dialogue, of course, flows incredibly well and is consistently entertaining. It’s a joy to listen to these lines flow so effortlessly from the actors’ mouths. There’s something inexplicably satisfying about it, almost like all the pieces of a puzzle falling into place. It gives the film a calm, breezy feeling, even when the characters are having a less than fantastic time. Obviously Allen has this kind of dialogue writing down to a science but it’s always worth pointing it out.
Great performances and well-written dialogue are expected in a Woody Allen film at this point but what really surprised me was just how gorgeous Café Society is. It’s an incredibly stylish film with an air of artificiality which aims to capture the look of the films of the era more so than the reality of the time period. In that regard it’s incredibly successful, this is the idealised version of classic Hollywood that anyone who has an interest in film pictures when they think of that era.
This look is accomplished with a mix of gorgeous costumes and great art-deco set design, along with some stunning lighting. Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro creates a great contrast between the New York and LA scenes with the use of a more subdued colour pallet for the former over the stunning oranges and yellows that are present in almost every scene that takes place in Hollywood.
Despite all of that though, something didn’t quite click for me. I was entertained for sure but I wasn’t grabbed, I wasn’t sucked into the world and I really think the lack of a strong story is the problem here. It’s more of a series of events happening that it is a strong beginning, middle and end. It begins to feel meandering, as if Allen had told the story he wanted to tell but needed to add an extra thirty minutes or so to get to feature length. This is unfortunate as there is an interesting take on the typical romance movie in there, even in the later parts of the film, but it’s held back by what feels like a lot of padding. This also has the effect of slowing the film right down, making it feel much closer to two hours than its actual runtime of around ninety minutes.
Café Society is undeniably well-made and is definitely a good time which is unfortunately held back from being great by what feels like a lot of padding in the latter half of the film.
Dir: Woody Allen
Scr: Woody Allen
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Corey Stoll, Blake Lively
Prd: Letty Arnonson, Stephen Tenenbaum, Edward Walson
DOP: Vittorio Storaro
Runtime: 96 minutes
Café Society is in UK cinemas now