Cafe Society (M)
Rating: 3.5 / 5
After almost 50 films to his name, 80-year-old Woody Allen isn’t about to change
formula and his latest offering Cafe Society fits it like a glove. The setting may change, but there is more often than not a hapless Jewish man (an Allen clone) stumbling his way through his life, love and his dialogue.
In this case it’s a sumptuous 1930s Hollywood, full of the beautiful people, with a very competent Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) as young Bobby Dorfman, a blow-in from the East Coast with big dreams. His eye is caught by the beguiling Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) who plays him like a fish as a ‘friend’ while maintaining a relationship with another man.
His movie wheeler-dealer Uncle Phil (a self-assured Steve Carell) reluctantly gives him a chance at the big time through a menial job at the bottom rung of the showbusiness ladder. Bobby makes the most of his opportunities until he cuts his losses with the disappointing Vonnie and the name-dropping desperados, and heads back broken-hearted to swinging New York to work in a nightclub.
He becomes a success and heads to the top of the game. Along the way he has all sorts of colourful adventures courtesy of his gangster brother (current movie bad guy ex-House of Cards Corey Stoll).
Another Veronica appears in his life (the stunning yet understated Blake Lively) and Bobby insists on calling the celebrated socialite Vonnie as well (as a kind of tribute to the dream that never happened).
Those of us who know Allen’s style are expecting the unresolved and unrequited romance to somehow come back to bite everyone hard, but, in the meantime, a few laughs courtesy of the droll attitude of the Dorfman family carry us through the story.
The cinematography and design are exquisite and worth the price of admission. As usual, music is always a major character in Allen’s films. His favourite genre of traditional jazz was in its golden age in the 1930s and it’s trotted out full throttle in Cafe Society.
Even though it opened the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, this is probably one of the less important of Woody Allen’s repertoire as it is pretty light-on story-wise and really has nothing new to say about the human condition, unlike many of his other films.
Nonetheless, it is enjoyable for the performances of the main players. Kristen Stewart carries off an unusually gentle role and the increasingly impressive and versatile work of Steve Carell is on full display. It’s also good to see Parker Posey lurking in any role, major or minor (this time as a model’s agent).
This is one for hardcore Woody Allen fans or those looking for a nostalgic fantasy escape into a glittering, glamorous, less complicated time.
Highlight: Stunning design and cinematography, trad. jazz
Red flag: Violence