Set in the 1930s, Woody Allen's bittersweet romance 'Café Society' follows Bronx-born Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) to Hollywood, where he falls in love, and back to New York, where he is swept up in the vibrant world of high society nightclub life. With 'Café Society' Woody Allen conjures up a 1930s world that has passed to tell a deeply romantic tale of dreams that never die.
Woody Allen’s latest work quotes heavily from his earlier projects, thus following a well-established formula which succeeds in most areas, but nevertheless fails in others. It’s nostalgic, mimicking the likes of Midnight in Paris while simultaneously spreading an aura of ‘newness’ that wraps the actors in a cocoon of 'allen-isms' which never quite reach their full potential. At the end, Café Society is neither Allen’s best, nor worst feature till date, but it’s certainly up there with his most memorable films that treat nostalgia like a fuel from which human emotion transmutes in a yearn for better, simpler times.
Café Society starts off by intertwining key Woody Allen ideas like fate, second chance and love into a concoction of events that unravel as fast as the human eye can see. Typical cast for such fast-moving plot would be Jesse Eisenberg, and he certainly doesn’t disappoint. In Café Society, he gets paired with former co-star Kristen Stewart and the two embark on a mysterious journey which should allow them emotional maturity when everything is said and done. Whether or not this is executed seamlessly, remains a question to be answered for another time, with one thing being certain: Jesse feels, walks and talks like your typical Allen antihero, and when a transition between said narration happens – it flows as naturally as every director would want.
Fortunately for us, the audience, the parts Woody Allen ‘lifts’ from himself come to be the better ones. Add the beautiful cinematography by industry master V. Storaro (Apocalypse Now, The Last Emperor, Muhammad: The Messenger of God) with his candid style that employs silhouettes and close ups in an innovative manner, and one will finally witness the true power of raw cinema in its purest form.
To aid Bobby (Eisenberg) in his trials and tribulations comes Steve Carell in the form of the eccentric Phil Stern, who more often than not plays like antithesis of the director’s typical hero, in a role that sees Carell taking a more serious approach than what he usually does.
Without spoiling anything, it should be said that the connections Woody Allen brings up between characters are impeccable, and rivaled only by few giants of modern American cinema (Scorsese, Soderbergh). This is true probably because Allen pens his movies by himself – therefore knowing his weaker spots and avoiding them at all costs. And Café Society has many, although truth be told: they don’t distract much from an overall enjoyable period experience per se.
Ultimately, Café Society is well-worth a look or two, if only to see how mature Allen has grown during the past years of his turbulent Hollywood life, in a film that plays much as a reflection upon one’s own choices in life.