"the strongest Woody Allen effort in recent years with delightful performances from Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg"
Woody Allen makes at least one movie a year and his most recent efforts; Irrational Man and Magic in the Moonlight were weak additions to his filmography, so it’s reassuring to discover Café Society is a vast improvement on those projects, although not a completely solid movie.
Jesse Eisenberg is Bobby, who moves to Los Angeles from New York hoping to get a job with his talent agent uncle Phil (Steve Carell). He is introduced to Phil’s secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) and falls in love, but he then moves back to the Big Apple and gets involved in the nightclub business with his brother Ben (Corey Stoll).
This is Eisenberg and Stewart’s third movie together after Adventureland and American Ultra and this chemistry is evident. They are quite similar in terms of their usual nervy, slightly moody personas so it is refreshing to see them trying something different here. Eisenberg, particularly in the latter half of the movie, is suave, a social butterfly and a charmer, while Stewart is lighter, more positive and effusive.
The story gets off to a promising start and it’s very entertaining to watch Bobby’s entry into 1930s Hollywood and the escalating love triangle between Bobby, Vonnie and her mystery partner but it loses focus once he returns to New York. It begins to drag, even though it’s only 96 minutes long in total, Allen doesn’t seem to know what to do with Bobby’s love interest Blake Lively, and the ending was underwhelming.
I can’t fault Allen’s style – the narration, the font, music and writing is so distinctly him and not many filmmakers can do that. The dialogue is witty and observant for the most part and made me smile a lot, though it rarely raises a proper laugh. It was just fun and entertaining to watch but didn’t capitalise on the strong first half, which had brilliant moments such as Bobby’s first encounter with a prostitute (Pitch Perfect’s Anna Camp).
Café Society is definitely the strongest Woody Allen effort in recent years with delightful performances from Stewart and Eisenberg so it’s just a shame it’s not a complete success.