Café Society

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

Woody Allen

Starring

Jesse Eisenberg Kristen Stewart Steve Carell

Anticipation.

It’s that time of year again…

Enjoyment.

Ponderous and light, though it comes into its own with the heartening climax.

In Retrospect.

Bittersweet period Woody. Fine.

Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg lay on the old-school charm in Woody Allen’s Golden Age Hollywood satire.

What if, at that crucial juncture in our lives, we had chosen one path instead of another? In movies, that alternative reality can be lived vicariously, and without experiencing the messy fallout. The cheerfully archaic Café Society pairs up Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg as low-level functionaries in 1930s Hollywood, and then follows on from the moment where their burgeoning romance suddenly, cruelly falls to pieces. The plot takes the form of a figure-8 pattern, two strands looping outwards, crossing in the middle and then meeting at the (heartbreaking) climax.

As with much late Woody Allen, the philosophical idea nestled at the core of this sweet comedic runaround is far more interesting than the way in which it is expressed. Sure, he knows how to throw together a superficially enjoyable movie, one that rattles along and covers all the required bases: every scene begins and ends at the point it should; jokes linger on for no longer than they are needed; superfluous information is the devil. Yet sometimes you can see, hear and feel the utter lack of joy he takes in making that journey from point A to point B. A narration which he intones himself introduces the audience to the Tinseltown jet set. It is so rote in its observations that you’d be forgiven for thinking he’d pinched it from his own Radio Days, Zelig or The Purple Rose of Cairo.

There’s no such slackness from veteran cinematographer Vittoro Storaro, who frames the gaudy, gilded stucco palaces of the moneyed west coast with a ghostly precision, locating clean lines in a dazzling mess of high style. With its central theme of lost beauty and unfulfilled desire, the film counterpoints the characters mu ed depression with lustrous décor and elaborate lighting schemes. It’s designed like a golden nugget, with thick shafts of light shimmering through window blinds, and interior surfaces made to glimmer alluringly. Still, mid-table Woody is better than the A-game of most other journeyman hacks.

Published 30 Aug 2016

Tags: Jesse Eisenberg Kristen Stewart Woody Allen

Anticipation.

It’s that time of year again…

Enjoyment.

Ponderous and light, though it comes into its own with the heartening climax.

In Retrospect.

Bittersweet period Woody. Fine.

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