Cafe Society, 2016.
Written and Directed by Woody Allen.
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Blake Lively, Corey Stoll, Parker Posey, Ken Stott, Jeannie Berlin and Steve Carell.
In the 1930s, a young Bronx native moves to Hollywood where he falls in love with the secretary of his powerful uncle, an agent to the stars. After returning to New York, he is swept up in the vibrant world of high society nightclub life.
Has Woody Allen lost it? An argument that has raged for many years since the turn of the century as to whether one of cinema’s most brilliant and witty minds had lost his mojo with films like Anything Else and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger splitting fans. Recently though he has embraced change and has been on a good roll recently last year’s Irrational Man proving he still has the touch.
His yearly venture behind the camera this time is Cafe Society, a loving reminisce of early Hollywood when glamour and glitz were more than just an Instagram account and millions of Twitter followers. Bobby (Eisenberg) has aspirations of working in amongst the cinematic masters of the universe and takes a menial job working for his uncle Phil (Carell), one of the biggest agent’s in the biz. There he meets Vonnie (Stewart), his uncle’s charming and beautiful assistant who entrances him beyond anything he has experienced before, despite the fact that she is secretly seeing uncle Phil. Fleeing the fakeness of the town, Bobby soon finds his feet working in his thug brother Ben’s (Corey Stoll) opulent but questionable nightclub that leads him to fall for the charms of another “Vonnie” – Veronica (Lively).
There’s a delightfully delicate nature to Cafe Society that allows the story to exude both charm and frivolity with tight-knit precision. Dialogue as you would expect flows wonderfully through the film – light and comical one minute, tender and heartfelt the next, it’s the kind of marriage made in heaven that’s reminiscent of classic Allen as his characters ensconce each other beautifully. Indeed Society may be the best thing our favourite “neurotic nerd” has done since this side of the new century as it combines classic with contemporary, new with old with such elegance and sharp wit that’s impossible not to fall in love from the opening moments (Allen’s stilted narration not withstanding).
The splendid, opulent surroundings of both vintage Hollywood and the society scene are beautifully realised by production designer Santo Locuasto and the magical, radiant cinematography by Vittorio Stotaro adding a dreamlike quality to proceedings that makes you want to jump through the screen and join the masses as they enjoy such rich and spellbinding surroundings.
Eisenberg has come in for some criticism recently for playing too many “Eisenberg” types – heck the whole reason he was cast as Lex Luthor in Batman v Superman was because he does what he does – but quietly the New Yorker has been making all the right moves to break free of such criticism with superb performances in the under-seen but brilliant Night Moves and Richard Ayoade’s The Double. But perhaps Society will be remembered as his greatest yet: charming, eloquent and debonair, Bobby is a far cry from his usual nerdy awkwardness associated with Eisenberg but so rich and suave is his performance that is more than enough to prove the naysayers naysaying is redundant as he continues to be one of the most interesting and adept talents of this century.
The same can be said for Stewart too, who too gives a stunning performance but many (including this young writer) have been most vocal of her talents that it’s a mute point no: she is an astounding, charismatic leading lady and everyone should be taking notice by now. Twilight be damned. Add to that another brilliant turn from Blake Lively, nicely recovered from that nasty episode with a shark, and the always-delightful Steve Carell, it becomes quite hard to find any faults with this ensemble.
While is doesn’t quite his the heights of classic, unadulterated Allen, Cafe Society is the director’s best work since his golden age – most apt given the subject matter of this latest triumph. A dreamy, soulful, wonderful trip through a bygone era with a uniformly superb cast, this is one society you’ll want to join.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Scott Davis is Senior Writer and Reporter for Flickering Myth – Follow him on Twitter.