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Café Society (Woody Allen – 2016) Review: Play it again Woody

1930s. Welcome to the Golden Age of Hollywood, the height of the studio era and sun drenched Los Angeles like a golden lure. Meanwhile in New York City, crime has never been more glamorous.

Woody Allen’s latest Café Society takes us on a journey with New York jazz lover (sound familiar?) Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) going across country to see if he can “make it” in Hollywood. His uncle  Phil Stern (Steve Carell) is a studio head who has been steadily guilted into giving the kid a break. With a foot in the door, he begins to infiltrate and network amongst this ‘Cafe Society,’ when he meets and falls for his uncle’s assistant Vonnie (Kristen Stewart).

If #instagram was making a filter for nostalgia; they’d take their cues from Cafe Society. This is the 1930s with all the style of Luhrman’s Gatsby but with the rose coloured glasses of the Romantic protagonist.  It’s an amazing place to visit to imagine and to wistfully stare into the middle distance with; but does this tale of the one that got away have enough charm and staying power to overcome its outward lack of depth? Initially, you’d be right to assume, but in fact Cafe Society becomes about a nostalgia for discovery, for courting, for mild mannered adventure and ol’ fashioned romance.

Bobby isn’t yearning for Hollywood to be a star, he doesn’t have a masterpiece script in mind, instead he wants the sea change. Like the rest of us he can’t help but be enchanted by the tabloid lives that his Uncle swans about in. After a short time though, he begins to see that his more authentic New York City is home. The tapestry of fast-talking characters stream past like passengers standing on platforms that your train doesn’t stop at. Allen’s talent though is to paint little vignettes to give you momentary curiosity. They’re fast-talking and totally principled until they’re not.

Eisenberg is almost too obvious as a Woody leading man. He hunches over his fast talking articulate New York accent in the beginning of the film. When you meet the older more established man he becomes running his nightspot, he really shines. The posture, the leading man jaw line. In one shining moment towards the film’s climax, you gracefully dance around him and he gets the opportunity to pine for the audience’s gaze. It’s quite beautiful. Kristen Stewart is refreshingly perfectly aware of her appeal. Vonnie plays it cool with Bobby, as she’s spoken for when they meet. The stunning Blake Lively, Veronica (Bobby’s wife) ripples with flecks of being tragically mistreated before meeting Bobby. Corey Stoll’s Ben (Bobby’s brother) is such a comfortably crooked thug who so casually uses large cement trucks to cover the remains of anyone.

Cafe Society feels like you’re ready to dismiss it and then you realise that you’re engrossed to the point you can’t look away. The whole film is a crowd, it’s Allen’s masterful misdirection and white noise to set up that lightning strike. We’ve all had one that got away, and now she’s (he’s) back. Of all the gin joints in all the world…

Score: 3/5

Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman

Directed by: Woody Allen    

Written by: Woody Allen


Steve Carell   …  Phil Stern

Sheryl Lee   …  Karen Stern

Jeannie Berlin   …  Rose Dorfman

Ken Stott   …  Marty Dorfman

Richard Portnow   …  Walt

Jesse Eisenberg   …  Bobby

Sari Lennick   …  Evelyn

Stephen Kunken   …  Leonard

Laurel Griggs   …  Evelyn’s Daughter

Corey Stoll   …  Ben Dorfman

Anna Camp   …  Candy

Kristen Stewart   …  Vonnie  

Don Stark   …  Sol

Gregg Binkley   …  Mike

Anthony DiMaria   …  Howard  

Blake Lively … Veronica

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