Café Society (2016)
Directed by Woody Allen • Written by Woody Allen
With Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Corey Stoll and Blake Lively
Woody Allen’s 47th film (his first shot on digital) is a dreamy trip back to grand old Hollywood, which centres on a love triangle between Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart and Steve Carell. Taking place between competing L.A and New York, Café Society is the sort of experience that can remind us why we love the enduring mythical glamour of the silver screen.
While Allen pokes fun at the kiss-ass business that circles movie star culture, he’s also keen to amplify its larger-than-life appeal. More than most, he can be kicked around in critic circles – often for not living up to his former glories or repeating them. But here, he gets a good balance, as his actors slip effectively into their roles as the story gains traction.
Working with Allen for the first time, the legendary Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography is a thing of beauty, evoking a sumptuous, luxurious feel in capturing the dreamlike nature of Hollywood high-life in the 1930’s. Indeed, there at least a dozen shot compositions worthy of framing and hanging.
As the film’s lead character, it’s as if Jesse Eisenberg’s body is being used as a host to channel Woody Allen in his prime, which is established early, in a funny scene he shares with Anna Camp – the latter playing an inexperienced prostitute on her first day. As it occurs, Eisenberg is an excellent fit for Allen’s wittering rhetoric – his sweet-natured nervousness and intelligence giving way to the occasional neurotic outburst. The symbiosis between actor and director is reinforced by Allen’s admittedly wobbly narration.
In their third onscreen pairing, Kristen Stewart’s unorthodox charm continues to lock well with Jesse Eisenberg’s. Add to that another fine performance by Steve Carrel and the film achieves a rounded sense of what it wants to be, as toe-tapping jazz music is piped through almost every scene.
Rather than saying Café Society isn’t Woody Allen’s best work, it’s fairer to point out that it finds him on form and with purpose. There’s a half-baked mafia subplot fizzling away in the background, but the central love triangle keeps our interest while the dipped-in-elegance photography makes it easily worth the ticket.