Hot Take: I was kind of half bored, half fascinated by the whole thing.
Woody Allen’s Café Society is well written and loaded with more than capable performers who efficiently bring the writing to life. Not only do the bigger names — Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Blake Lively, Parker Posey — sparkle but the less recognizable members of the cast — Jeannie Berlin, Corey Stoll, Ken Stott, Anna Camp and others — also deliver performances that enhance what amounts to a rather small but entertaining film.
Café Society is dripping with nostalgia. Set in the 1930s, the story follows Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg), a young Jewish guy from New York who decides to see what Los Angeles has to offer. With the help of his uncle Phil (Steve Carell), he gets a job and meets a girl, Vonnie, who is Phil’s secretary (Kristen Stewart) and, unbeknownst to Bobby, Phil’s mistress. That’s the gist of the first act but to share more would lead to some spoilers which we’re committed to trying our best not to spoil anything around here.
Eventually, the story moves back to New York. The Hollywood life wasn’t for Bobby so he goes back home to run the nightclub his brother owns. His brother is also a mobster but none of that really matters as you realize the real point of the movie is to glamorize the age. At its core, Café Society is a love letter to 1930s high society. The film gushes over the period and its characters right down to Bobby’s mobster brother who essentially isn’t a very good guy but it takes a little time to even realize that as the film is so complimentary to practically everything that happens.
Essentially though, there aren’t many revelations in Café Society which makes the film feel rather small. It’s tightly written and impeccably acted by even the most suspect performers of the bunch. Allen’s gifted filmmaking ability shines and is a drastic recovery from last year’s Irrational Man. It’s not up to the caliber of Allen’s early filmmaking but this little homage to the 30s is entertaining enough to make you happy you chose to give it a shot.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- The Discussion of the Afterlife
Late in the film, Bobby’s parents have a discussion that leads to talking about the afterlife. The dialogue is filled with humor and honesty and the scene steals the title for the most memorable of the movie.
- It’s Beautiful
The cinematography of Vittorio Storaro stands out as everything in the film looks amazing. From Bobby’s time in Hollywood and the big, luxurious houses of the stars to his return to New York City and the sights of the Big Apple. It’s all spectacular looking and makes for an incredible viewing experience even if somehow the writing falls flat with you.
- Kristen Stewart
Personal feelings aside, Allen has a knack for bringing out the best from his female stars. This is no exception as Stewart who can sometimes be painful to watch on screen delivers a very convincing performance and one of the better ones in the film.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- The Narration
For some reason, Woody Allen as the narrator is overly distracting. He almost sounds a little bit bored with the material. The rather dry presentation sucks a little bit of the vibrant energy out of the film.
- If I’m Being Picky…
Early on in the film, Jesse Eisenberg’s performance feels a little neurotic, nebbish and all too close to a Woody Allen impression. Mimicking the writer/director isn’t an homage, it’s distracting.