Café Society – Film Review by Fran Winston
Directed by: Woody Allen
Starring: Jeannie Berlin, Steve Carell, Jesse Eisenberg, Blake Lively, Parker Posey, Kristen Stewart, Corey Stoll, Ken Stott
In cinemas: September 2nd
There was a time that a new Woody Allen movie release was greeted with huge excitement. Now they tend to garner the sort of reception you give your comfy old slippers. It’s not that Allen’s style has deteriorated – it’s simply that he hasn’t really pushed himself in years. He’s found a comfort zone and he’s happy in it. Which is fine but does make his work somewhat predictable.
In this latest offering Eisenberg plays Bobby Dorfman, the youngest son of a Jewish family in 30s New York. Looking for excitement he moves to Hollywood and begins working for his Uncle Phil (Carrell) a powerful talent agent. He soon falls in love with Phil’s secretary Vonnie (Stewart) but he is rebuffed as she claims she is attached. However her relationship is far more complicated than Bobby could imagine and it eventually sends him running back to New York where he starts managing a nightclub run by his brother Ben (Stoll) where the great and good of New Yok’s café society go to be entertained. But despite his success he never fully forgets about Vonnie.
Bobby is pretty much the character Allen played in most of his early movies. The adorkable and naïve young Jewish boy thrust out into the big bad world. Eisenberg has clearly been studying Allen’s past offerings and if you squint it could almost be the now 80 year old filmmaker in the role. Like most of Allen’s movies this is an ensemble piece so while Bobby’s story may be the catalyst for everything else that happens, the whole cast get their moment to shine. There are some great performances across the board even if many of the characters are total stereotypes (particularly the gangsters who are almost cartoonish!)
What really strikes you about his is how beautiful it looks. Allen clearly loves this period of history and always shoots it in a romantic and almost hypnotic style and this is no exception. The colour palette is sublime and the backdrops and cinematography are stunning. Everything from the trim on a costume to the art deco interior of the club will take your breath away. This also distracts somewhat from the story but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Much like Allen’s previous works this is very wordy and there is a huge amount of explanation and exposition which is unnecessary.
This is enjoyable enough fare and Allen fans will thoroughly love it. The pacing could be a bit snappier and at times it feels rather weary but overall it is an engaging tale told well. It would be really nice to see Allen attempt something new even just to challenge himself but he is clearly working on the “if it ain’t broke…” philosophy and it has stood him in good stead for decades so who am I to tell him what to do. A love letter to the 1930s this is like comfort food and will leave you satisfied but disappointed that it wasn’t a bit more exciting.