Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Blake Lively, Jeannie Berlin, Ken Scott, Corey Stoll, Paul Schneider, Parker Posey
Woody Allen might make a new film every single year, typically you have two bad ones before you get to the reoccurring third-good one. After two forgettable features with Emma Stone, Café Society shows a step forward and outside the 80-year-old directors comfort zone. Perhaps Bruce Willis helped fuel that by getting himself fired from the project early on (replaced by Carell). Allen narrates a film he doesn’t appear in for the first time in 29 years. He also goes fully digital with this picture and casting two new blondes: Stewart and Lively, new to the Allen cinematic world. Café Society is the largest film for Allen in a while, filmed both in Los Angeles and New York with impressive locations, a big cast and an ode to complex love.
Bobby Dorfman (Eisenberg), the nephew of a big Hollywood studio player, travels from New York to Los Angeles to try his hand in the movie capital of the world. He doesn’t know anyone, stays in a motel, giving himself three weeks to make something of himself. Bobby has a hard time getting a meeting with uncle Phil Stern (Carell), but becomes smitten with his assistant Vonnie (Stewart). She confesses she has a boyfriend, but that doesn’t stop Bobby from falling for her. She finds his naiveté charming and becomes torn between her older/married boyfriend and this new face in town. “Life is a comedy. Written by a sadistic comedy writer,” the narrator explains.
Marks one of Eisenberg’s most prolific growth spurts as an actor, maybe even his best performance to date.
Allen returns to his specialty: dark, ironic humor. Café Society feels like classic Woody Allen not only due to the good writing, but Eisenberg’s spot on impersonation of Allen in the first half of the film. In the later, New York half of the film, Eisenberg not only looks different, but sheds any remnant of the bumbling Allen type. For the first time in his career, the Oscar nominated actor becomes something else entirely: a leading man. Café Society marks one of Eisenberg’s most prolific growth spurts as an actor, maybe even his best performance to date. Stewart also lends her charming, albeit stereotyped, skills to the film. This marks the third time Eisenberg and Stewart have starred together (Adventureland, American Ultra). In scenes with Eisenberg she is exactly the type of “Allen leading lady” we would expect. However, in other scenes opposite Carell, she is unable to sell that authenticity, maybe it’s the age difference.
Despite the focal point of love and relationships in Café Society, it’s supporting actress Jeannie Berlin (Inherent Vice) who steals the show as Bobby’s very Jewish mother back in New York. If you know the way Allen structures his films, the inter-cutting between Bobby in Los Angeles and what is happening back home will all eventually intersect in some hilarious and awkward way. Allen gives the audience a lot to think about as we are often torn on who to feel empathy for, the cheater, the one wanting to cheat, or the girl caught in the middle. Allen doesn’t use quiet enough Parker Posey in here, but thankfully almost buries a dull Lively who once again adds nothing to her good looks. Café Society has a wonderfully appropriate ending that happens right at the same time the audience reaches their tolerance threshold for these characters.
Delightful, fresh and funny. Allen returns to his old self with a career high performance from Eisenberg.