Whether you love him or hate him, you can always rely on Woody Allen to release a new film every summer. The past decade has seen both wonderful and mediocre, from Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine to Magic in the Moonlight and An Irrational Man. With Café Society, Allen is at his most sardonic and entertaining as he examines Hollywood, relationships, and happiness through the eyes the naive and awkward Bobby—essentially Woody Allen if he lived in Hollywood in the 30s.
Fresh off the plane in Hollywood, New Yorker Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) immediately heads to his uncle Phil (Steve Carell), a big-wig talent agent whose vocabulary mainly consists of dropping famous names and scheduling a lunch here or there. Though Phil is entirely unreliable, he gives Bobby a job doing odd-jobs and sends him out to explore the city with the down-to-earth Veronica “Vonnie” (Kirsten Stewart). Sparks fly, though, and Bobby falls madly in love with Vonnie, despite the fact that she has a boyfriend.
Things grow complicated from there, once the identity of the boyfriend is involved, but Allen doesn’t stop there with his storytelling. Essentially a film in two parts—one in LA and the other in New York—Allen has a lot of fun with his tale: gangsters, unrequited love, beautiful women and sleazy producers. The cast is big and suffers from the scattered story: but it makes up for it in being both viciously entertaining and bitterly insightful on love and missed opportunities.
Eisenberg and Stewart delight once again with their indelible chemistry. Their third picture together (next to Adventureland and American Ultra) sees them entering new dramatic terrain similar to Adventureland which is in essence the same story: Stewart has a boyfriend, Eisenberg fawns over her like, well, a “deer in the headlights” as Vonnie tells him in the film. Bolstered by a cocky, unstable performance from Carell, the three main leads perform admirably. Tack on the supporting cast which consists of Corey Stoll as Bobby’s gangster brother, Ben, and Blake Lively, and this has the makings to be one of Allen’s most impressive casts since Midnight in Paris.
Café Society is also a gorgeous film to look at. Decadent mansions, vintage clothing, cool cars, and stunning dresses and suits all pop off the screen thanks to Vittorio Storaro’s magnificent cinematography. But for as beautiful as it is, the people themselves leave something to be desired as Allen paints a portrait of Hollywood that would make one believe there’s nothing but liars, cheaters, and assholes among the creme dela creme. While there isn’t always someone to really rely on in the film, the characters are human enough to at least have some honorable traits.
Even though Cafe Society suffers from a scattered plot that skips around a tad too much and overstays its welcome, Allen has a success on his hands. Bitter, funny, and entertaining, Cafe Society shows the worst of Hollywood as Allen proves once again that he can still crank out a hit.