Directed by Woody Allen. Starring Steve Carell, Kristen Stewart, Jesse Eisenberg, Corey Stoll, Blake Lively, Jeannie Berlin, Ken Stott.
THE PLOT: In Hollywood of the 1930s, Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) arrives in Hollywood with big dreams of working with his uncle Phil, who just so happens to be an agent to the stars. Although the dream of riches and fortune don’t come quickly, Bobby soon finds love – albeit unrequited – with his uncle’s secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), who is in a relationship with a man who is already married.
THE VERDICT: ‘Café Society” marks Woody Allen’s second year in a row at the Cannes Film Festival and his third film to officially open the festival. Last year, the director brought ‘Irrational Man’ to the festival – where it premiered outside of competition – and the same goes this year.
As usual, Woody Allen has lined up an impressive cast, including Corey Stoll, Blake Lively, Steve Carell, Ken Stott, Parker Posey, Anna Camp and Jeannie Berlin in small roles, led by Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart. Jesse Eisenberg does his best to make Bobby likeable and sweet, but after an encounter with an inexperienced call girl (Anna Camp), the trademark manic arrogance that the actor brings to much of his work begins to show. Kristen Stewart, on the other hand, manages to leave behind all of the tics and crutches that she developed through the ‘Twilight’ films, and makes Vonnie engaging and likeable. Stewart lights up the screen each time she appears, and it is when she disappears for a time that the film begins to run out of energy.
Allen’s screenplay for the film has a sweet story at its heart, but it is told in a complicated and tangled way. With Allen himself narrating proceedings, characters and stories jump through time seemingly at will, leaving Allen’s narration to fill in the blanks, and there are so many subplots going on, which could well be stories of their own, it is not long before the characters change so much as to be unrecognisable, and the story becomes bloated. The dialogue for the film is fine – there are plenty of laughs brought by Jeannie Berlin as the overbearing Jewish mother – although there are times when this feels stilted and forced.
As director, Allen once again creates familiar characters on the screen, but there is a dire lack of emotion throughout the film, which means that although characters may state their emotion, it is difficult for the audience to feel this, or engage with it. This means that the film – shot by Vittorio Storaro in his first collaboration with Woody Allen – is visually an Art Deco dream of nostalgia, but ends up feeling rather dull and superficial. ‘Café Society’ marks the first time that Woody Allen has shot a film on the digital format, which leads to a strange disconnect between the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema, and the new technologies emerging today. As well as this, there is an attempt to have the camera gaze on Kristen Stewart the way cameras did on starlets in the 1930s, but this is done in a clunky and obvious way that does not sit well with the rest of the film.
In all, it is great to have Woody Allen back at Cannes but perhaps the prolific director – this is his 47th film at the helm – needs to focus less on quantity and more on quality. The story at the heart of ‘Café Society’ is a sweet one, but it is never fully explored, and while Kristen Stewart is luminous on screen, the rest of the cast fall into old patterns or, like Blake Lively and Corey Stoll, are criminally underused.
RATING: 2.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

Cannes Review - Café Society
Review by Brogen Hayes
2.5Typical Allen; not special
  • Ariadne

    I always knew France is lucky for Kristen. Every time her films have been made and/or premiered here, her acting was praised. Hopefully, like Café Society, her next venture, Personal Shopper will be praised too.

  • filmbuff2011

    There’s always a cosy familiarity about Woody Allen’s films. As a period tune plays over those trademark opening credits, it’s like visiting a kindly grandfather who tells you a story full of interesting people, places and times. Cafe Society does just that – and more.

    In the 1930s, nebbish young man Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) moves from the bright lights of New York to the palm-tree lined environment of Los Angeles during the Golden Age of Hollywood. He’s looking for a job at his uncle’s studio. Phil (Steve Carell) knows all the movers and shakers in Hollywood, but initially doesn’t have much time for Bobby. In the meantime, he gets to know Phil’s attractive secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart). She shows him around town and they spend time together. Though, she warns him that she has a journalist boyfriend. Despite that, the two become drawn to each other. Bobby is drawn to her girl-next-door simplicity in a town which wants anything but that, while Vonnie is drawn to his kind, if somewhat demanding personality. A change in developments leads Bobby back to New York, where he has to deal with mobster brother Ben (Corey Stoll) and he falls for a socialite (Blake Lively). But Bobby just can’t let Vonnie go…

    Cafe Society may not be classic Allen like Annie Hall or Hannah And Her Sisters, but it’s better than some of his recent efforts like Magic In The Moonlight and Irrational Man. It’s a film that is based around two people, two cities and one particular time. The time that Allen is referring to is the high society of the 1930s, with its post-Prohibition nightlife and the era of the great movie stars and heartthrobs of the time like Clark Gable, Rudolph Valentino and Spencer Tracy. It’s a fitting environment for a story of two ordinary people who change over the course of the film, to become the very people they idolised at the movie palaces.

    It’s also a love letter to both cities. Allen’s heart will always belong to New York, but he shows the glamour and style of Los Angeles in its heyday without mocking, tongue-in-cheek humour (no driving through plutonium jokes here). Working on digital for the first time with veteran cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, he captures that golden brown sunlight that basks Los Angeles like a layer of otherworldliness.

    The time, setting and environment works well the performances too. Eisenberg is ideal casting as the Allen surrogate here (Allen narrates rather than appears this time around). His quickfire line delivery and awkward nervousness is pure Allen, best demonstrated in a hilarious early scene involving a prostitute. Stewart, now well out of the shadows of the turgid Twilight films, is charming, sweet and complex all at once. Her character’s arc mirrors her own recent personal life, but kudos to her for taking on the role. She’s often under-rated, but is making smart career choices that show other sides to her talent. The closing scene is wonderful and ties up the film nicely. Woody Allen fans will find much to enjoy in Cafe Society. Make a date. ****

  • emerb

    At 80 years of age, Woody Allen isn’t showing signs of slowing down any time soon, and his latest offering, “Café Society” marks his 47th film which sees him once again returning to the past. Set in the 1930’s, this is a bittersweet comedy of manners which finds us swept back to the Golden Age of Hollywood. Stylistically, this picture is reminiscent of “To Rome With Love” or “Midnight In Paris”, with umpteen picture perfect locales. It also touches on themes he has
    explored before like illicit affairs and the mysteries of romance. Superbly shot by Vittorio Storaro, I thought it was his most visually appealing film he has ever made and I thoroughly enjoyed the fabulous music from some of New York’s top jazz musicians, breath-taking scenery and nostalgic charm. This film was right down my alley.

    Woody Allen narrates and “Café Society” opens at an L.A. poolside party at the house of a high-powered, pretentious, cigar-smoking Hollywood agent, Phil Stern (Steve Carell). We move between L.A. and New York, where we meet the Dorfmans, the working-class Jewish family of Phil’s sister Rose (Jeannie Berlin). Rose’s ambitious and energetic son Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) soon arrives in L.A. looking for adventure. At first, Phil isn’t too keen on welcoming his nephew into his world but, out of family loyalty, he decides to give him a mailroom job and also introduces him to his pretty secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart). She is to act as Bobby’s charming guide to Hollywood but her sweet nature and lack of airs and graces mean that Bobby finds himself falling hopelessly in love despite her gentle attempts to discourage him. Her personal life is complicated as she has a secret lover. It turns out she is sleeping with a married man….Phil! Broken hearted and devastated, Bobby returns to New York, where he joins his gangster brother Ben (Corey Stoll) in running a nightclub that soon becomes the place to be for the rich and famous, aptly called Café Society. He marries another beautiful woman named Vonnie (short for “Veronica”), played by Blake Lively, and they settle down together but at the back of it all he does not truly love her. Time passes and Bobby and Vonnie change and lead different lives. When they come across each other again, old feelings are once again brought to the surface.
    Ever since his star turn in “The Social Network”, Jesse Eisenberg has failed to impress me but this is one of his best performances since then. He is perfectly cast as the neurotic Bobby, a Bronx native eager to make his way in Hollywood. However, Kirsten Steward it’s the stand out, she continues to mature as a very subtle performer and I really warmed to her low key performance here. In her vast array of pretty gingham shirts and alice bands, she perfectly navigates Vonnie’s conflicted feelings about her dueling suitors. She brings a naturalness
    to the character and is quite mesmerizing to watch. Ken Stott and Jeannie Berlin as Bobby’s parents from the Bronx are a hoot and Carell is on terrific form as a name-dropping power player who takes a shine to Bobby, inviting him into his palatial home and introducing him to various rich people and Hollywood artists.
    “Café Society” is one of Woody Allen’s better movies of recent years. This is the first film he has made with digital camera and it shows – absolutely gorgeous scenery, ravishing costumes, dripping with style and panache, it held me captivated. I loved being whisked away into a past world of Hollywood sophistication and glamour. It’s also funny, romantic, and engaging and peppered with comic dialogue. Some will consider the plot shallow and threadbare and admittedly it is rather predictable, but in the midst of all the current convoluted, loud and bolder movies, I found this was somewhat refreshing. The key to the success here is not the story but the way it is told, the wistful recreation of a bygone era. Glossy visual execution together with a top class ensemble cast should see good commercial success for this film. It may not be his very best but, if you’re a fan of the Woody Allen style, you won’t come
    away in the least bit disappointed