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New Release Review - CAFÉ SOCIETY

A young man falls for his Hollywood agent uncle's mistress.






Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Woody Allen

Starring: Blake Lively, Kristen Stewart, Jesse Eisenberg, Steve Carell, Jeannie Berlin, Parker Posey, Corey Stoll, Ken Stott



Like a poor man's The Great Gatsby, the trite moral of Café Society's story boils down to "money can't bring you happiness", something millionaire storytellers have been trying to convince their audiences of for decades.



One of the last celluloid holdouts along with Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino, Woody Allen has finally made the digital switchover for his 47th movie as director, the period 'dramedy' Café Society. Those fearing a drop in aesthetic quality should have no fear, as thanks to stellar work by legendary cinematographer Vittorio Storraro, this is arguably Allen's best looking movie of the 21st century. Unfortunately, the visuals aren't matched by Allen's script, one of his least interesting of the same time period.


The Allen surrogate this time is Jesse Eisenberg, a lifelong Allen afficionado who once received a cease and desist order from Allen's lawyers after penning a screenplay based on the filmmaker's life. Here he plays Bobby Dorfman, a classic Allen protagonist, a Jewish New York nebbish. In the 1930s, Bobby heads west to Hollywood to take a position at the talent agency run by his uncle Phil (Steve Carell), whose roster of clients includes some of the most sought after stars of the day. When Phil assigns his secretary, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), the task of showing his nephew around town, Bobby falls head over heels for her, but Vonnie's heart belongs to Daddy, or rather uncle - Uncle Phil that is.


Café Society is centred around the love/lust triangle of its three central characters, and while it's easy to see why both men would be attracted to the pretty and smart Vonnie, and why she might be seduced by the wealth and power of Phil, it's not so easy to understand what Vonnie sees in Bobby. Neither wealthy nor conventionally handsome, Bobby doesn't exactly go out of his way to make up for these deficiencies. Vonnie keeps telling him, and us, that he's adorably awkward, but we simply see him as obnoxiously arrogant, the sort of young man who expects women to fall for him because he believes himself to be "a nice guy". He's far from a nice guy, as we see in his early encounter with a young prostitute, played by Anna Camp; he invites her for sex, only to turn judgemental and moralistic on her arrival.


Like a poor man's The Great Gatsby, the trite moral of Café Society's story boils down to "money can't bring you happiness", something millionaire storytellers have been trying to convince their audiences of for decades. If you can ignore the weariness of this message, you'll find some consolation in the film's visuals, from the exquisite tracking shots through lavish Hollywood parties to the inventive flashbacks detailing Bobby's brother Ben's (Corey Stoll) violent rise as a New York mobster, while Jeannie Berlin, as Bobby's very Jewish mother, provides the film's few chortles. Café Society is the first Woody Allen movie I could accuse of offering style over substance, but it's an unfortunately considerable imbalance.

Café Society is in cinemas September 2nd.




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