Review: Cafe Society

By Brendan Callaghan

There’s something mildly comforting in the knowledge that Woody Allen will always be making movies. This bespectacled self-confessed neurotic who started out his career first as a comedy writer and then as a nightclub comedian in New York way back in the 50s has been making on average one film a year for as long as most people can remember.

In fact a quick scan of his IMDB profile confirms that his last barren year was in 1976! Incidentally he released probably his greatest work Annie Hall the very next year in 1977.

His latest offering, Café Society, is a quaint, lively and well structured love-triangle story which evocatively recreates the Los Angeles and New York of the 1930s.

The first thing anyone will notice about this movie is its look. The colour scheme and lighting techniques used in the scenes set in LA compliment each other perfectly in creating that warm familiar glow of natural light that we all subconsciously associate with the golden age of Hollywood.

This is in contrast to the muted browns and dull greys that we see in the scenes set in New York; a visual reference to classic New York gangster movies such as The Godfather or Once Upon a Time In America.

The visual contrast which the film creates between LA and New York also cleverly reflects the difference in tone between the parallel story lines of the two settings.

Allen’s latest onscreen avatar, Jesse Eisenberg, stars as young Bobby Dorfman, who makes his way to LA in order to track down his successful movie-executive uncle (played brilliantly by the ever-reliable Steve Carell) and start a new life in the glamour of Hollywood.

Bobby soon becomes enamoured with his uncle’s secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) and the rest of the movie traces the tumultuous and differing paths of these star-crossed lovers.

Unfortunately the central love story of Eisenberg and Stewart is not quite compelling enough to carry the whole of the movie and so the main storyline is appropriately buffered by the parallel trials of Bobby’s family back in New York.

Eventually these two parallel stories merge in a manner which expresses Allen’s still potent writing talent and imagination.  

Eisenberg’s initially awkward and irritating gestures and affected Allen-esque mannerisms give way half way through the movie to a more slick, confident and boisterous incarnation when Bobby’s circumstances take a drastic change.

Stewart’s character Vonnie also undergoes some drastic changes; and in a film that includes so much exposition, involving characters speaking with unabashed openness about their feelings for one another, the most poignant moments seem to come in the more pensive scenes or when it’s up to the audience to read between the lines in order to find a different meaning behind the words.

Unfortunately these moments don’t come regularly enough and in a film that so often shines with the sparkle of Hollywood or the glamour of high-society, it needed just a few more darker or silent moments that might have ripped it from its nostalgic dream and brought it back to reality.


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