Cafe Society: Film Review
Cast: Steve Carell, Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Blake Lively, Ken Stott, Carey Stoll
Director: Woody Allen
Woody Allen returns to Tinseltown in a film that's very much a case of two halves and which suffers because of it.
Eisenberg plays Bronx native Bobby, who heads to 1930s Los Angeles to see if he can make a go of life by checking in with his agent uncle Phil Stern (Carell). Falling in love with Phil's secretary Veronica (Stewart), Bobby pursues her even though she admits she's seeing a married man.
However, life doesn't go as planned for Bobby and he ends up heading back to New York to run a nightclub with his gangster brother (Stoll, who gets most of the Mafioso throwaway shots and gags). Swept up in the high society and notoriety of the times, Bobby's life carries on - until he's paid a visit from the past.
Allen's lightweight touches and Eisenberg's pure channeling of Allen and his words make the first half of Cafe Society a sumptuous zingy thrill.
Swathed in some truly evocative and brilliant costume detail, the film looks exquisite and is as rich as any of Allen's best work. With fresh one-liners, back and forth dialogue early on that's engaging and quirky (an exchange between Bobby and a lady of the night is as close to pure neurosis Allen heaven as you'll get), it's sad to see that the move back to New York mires the story.
Thankfully, the repartie between Stott and Jeannie Berlin as husband and wife gives the film the zing it needs, but the lift isn't enough to propel you through a saggy second half, riddled with half-baked side plots that are too disinteresting to care about.
It doesn't help that a new pivotal character's introduced briefly in the back half with barely enough time to care about her inclusion into the emotive equation and certainly, the conclusion of the film would have had greater heft were the dynamic introduced earlier on.
Ultimately, Cafe Society is as frothy an Allen piece as they come, with some side trappings of dreamers / what if life thrown in for good measure. It's not a bad Allen piece by far (and certainly, it's not as dire as Irrational Man was), but its lightweight and inconsequential nature means its ultimate pay-off lacks the heft and leaves you feeling unsatisfied.