Café Society sees Jesse Eisenberg play Bobby, a Woody Allen-type character who skips New York for the chance to make it in Hollywood. His uncle Phil (Steve Carrell), a film industry big-shot, throws him a bone by giving him odd jobs and errands to run; and an even bigger bone in his secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) to whom he assigns the task of introducing Bobby to LA. Naturally the two fall in love, but oh! Vonnie is already seeing someone else. Upon this premise the film explores the dynamics of relationships, the film industry, and more – though perhaps not with much depth. Sub-plots following Bobby’s family members (like Bobby’s gangster brother Ben, played by Corey Stoll) hang from and are loosely connected to this – though at times feel superfluous despite being somewhat entertaining.
If nothing else, Café Society is extremely pleasing to the eye. The camera work combines with lavish sets and costumes to paint a glamorous portrait of 1930’s Hollywood and New York: the sharp lines of black and white tuxedo’s contrast with rich cocktail dresses in a swirling parade of decadence deftly captured by Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography.
The fact that the film was shot digitally may however be the most novel aspect of the director’s latest work. There are the familiar Woody Allen-ism’s of age-gap romance (which becomes only more disturbing in light of certain allegations leveled against him), a soundtrack comprised of jazz standards (in this case quite befitting), and a dollop of bitter-sweetness; as well as some of his stock-standard characters (i.e. the hand-wringing “bourgeois bohemian” intellectual).
That aside, the cast is wonderful, even if many do play to type. Eisenberg is delightfully disconcerting in the way he channels his inner Woody, and Kristen Stewart’s performance helps to accentuate the underlying feeling of sadness that properly starts to set in during the film’s third act. The pair have an off-kilter chemistry on screen that, in this instance, works nicely.
Café Society is a largely predicable, by-the-numbers film that is helped by its gorgeous visuals and some good performances. And while it doesn’t induce roaring laughter, the comedy does help distract the viewer from what would otherwise be a ho-hum affair.
Café Society opens in NZ Cinemas on 20th October 2016.
Run Time: 96 minutes