Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell
Director: Woody Allen
Running Time: 96 mins
Café Society is an American film about a young New Yorker who moves to Hollywood at the peak of the movie industry in the 1930s. There, he falls in love with a woman who works for his powerful uncle, but still feels disillusioned by the Hollywood lifestyle.
This may not be a great film, but it’s a real treat for die-hard movie fans. Apart from being yet another instalment in Woody Allen’s legendary filmography, Café Society is an engrossing and immersive look at Hollywood in the 1930s, complete with delightful directing and cinematography from start to finish. The story may be very mediocre, but with such wonderful visuals and entertaining performances, Café Society proves a pleasant and indulgent watch throughout.
The best thing about the film by far is its visual style. Woody Allen directs with just as much confidence as ever, this time giving us a hugely immersive experience mingling with the stars on and behind the big screen in 1930s Hollywood. The film features several party scenes, and Allen’s use of a floating camera technique in various tracking shots, casually meandering in and out of conversations as if you’re walking around the party yourself, is really effective, and feels like a dream come true for Classic Hollywood nerds like me.
Also, the way the cinematography creates such diverse personalities for the locations of New York and Hollywood is a brilliant feature. When we arrive in Hollywood with a wide-eyed young Jesse Eisenberg, everything is bathed in brilliant sunshine. The frames are filled with orange, pink and red, and it feels like a utopian dreamland.
Contrast that with New York early on, where we cut back to regularly, and it’s a very grey, dull-looking picture, making our young protagonist’s exploits in Hollywood, falling in love and climbing the ladder of the movie industry, feel all the more idealistic.
However, as the film’s perceptions begin to shift from idealising Hollywood to lauding the New York social life, we see a shift in the visual portrayals of the two locations. The night club in New York where we spend most of the film is filled with diamonds, silver and glamour, whilst the family houses that were previously so dull are complete with a lot more light, giving Eisenberg’s newfound confidence as a New York socialite extra emphasis.
Another positive from the film is the performances. They’re not stunning, and the sub-par writing means the actors don’t have much room to show off, but they all still do a very good job. Jesse Eisenberg effectively plays a younger Woody Allen in the title role, and his chemistry with Kristen Stewart is once again second-to-none. In fact, Stewart is the stand-out performer in yet another film, showing her excellent range from comedy to drama once again.
There’s a lot I really enjoyed about this film, but there’s one big snag that prevents it from being a consistently engaging watch: the story. In truth, it’s all very light, and there’s nowhere near as much dramatic and emotional resonance in the characters as classic Woody Allen films.
Also, the plot is far too meandering to pack any emotional punch. Whilst the free-spirited vibe works well in the party sequences, it hurts the development of Eisenberg and Stewart’s onscreen relationship, as it skips to and fro between the world of cinema, their romance, the family in New York, his brother’s involvement in crime and more, constantly disrupting the flow of the film in a frustrating manner.
Put simply, the story in Café Society just isn’t interesting enough. Whilst there’s so much to love about the film’s visual style, as well as the strong central performances, the plot is so mediocre and lacking in energy or intrigue that the film can often be a lot more boring than it should have been, and that’s why I’m giving Café Society a 7.1 overall.