Woody Allen’s Back With Cafe Society
July 29, 2016
After a string of disappointments (2014’s Magic in the Moonlight and 2015’s An Irrational Man), 4-time Academy Award-winning writer/director Woody Allen is back in cinemas with Cafe Society, a romantic tribute to 1930s Hollywood.
The film follows Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg), a New Yorker looking for a change of scenery after becoming fed up with his job at his father’s (Ken Stott) butchery. He leaves for Hollywood, nabbing a job at an agency run by his uncle, Phil Stern (Steve Carell). Phil introduces his nephew to Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), an assistant at the agency. Believing they are meant for each other, Bobby begins to do anything and everything to win over Vonnie despite the fact that she’s already in a relationship. What follows is a charming, albeit traditional, yarn that has Allen at his most nostalgic.
Allen’s screenplay is undoubtedly the most impressive aspect of Cafe Society. His strongest since 2011’s Midnight in Paris, it’s packed with sizzling dialogue, terrifically-drawn characters that constantly defy the tropes of the genre, and his signature brand of witty humor. Sadly, it does fail to conclude in satisfying fashion, leaving the audience with what feels like a second-act break, not a finale.
The performances are equally exceptional. Eisenberg is a perfect fit for the awkwardly charismatic character that Allen would likely portray himself were it 1977. Carell is beautifully slimy as the agent that seems to know everyone who’s anyone and is never off the phone, while the supporting cast is pitch perfect, particularly Corey Stoll (Ant-Man) as Bobby’s mobster brother. It is Stewart, however, that steals the show. Delivering her finest performance yet and one of the year’s best, she expertly reveals the many sides to Vonnie, one of Allen’s most complex characters. Keep an eye out for her come Oscar time.
Allen’s love for classic Hollywood is palpable every second of Cafe Society’s brisk 96-minute running time. From the fantastic costume design (courtesy of Suzy Benzinger) to Vittorio Storaro’s (Apocalypse Now) gorgeous cinematography (his use of light is nearly unmatched in modern film), the director’s attention to detail is laudable. His inclusion of excerpts from several films of the era as well as the constant name-dropping of stars is a true delight for film fans.
Though it may not break any new ground, Woody Allen’s Cafe Society is nonetheless a hilarious and endearing portrait of 1930s Hollywood that marks a definite comeback for one of America’s most celebrated filmmakers.