FILM REVIEW: Cafe Society

Just what do you do when your nephew’s been ‘carrying on’ with the girl of your dreams, without your knowing?

Come on. We’ve all been there!

Welcome to Cafe Society, Woody Allen’s latest wrestle with life’s little peculiarities.

Woody Allen – narrating here in a voice that I genuinely had absolutely no idea belonged to him until I was informed quite a few days later – tells the story of a young Jewish kid, Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg), from New York (where else!), who heads south to L.A aware that his uncle Phil (Steve Carell), is a big shot Hollywood agent to the stars. Here, he hopes that Phil can find some role for him too in this glamorous world of film and show-biz.

Not able to think of anything in particular, Phil eventually assigns ad hoc tasks to young Bobby, and this in turn provides much needed leverage to Phil’s busy day-to-day life.

Not knowing anyone in town, Vonnie (Phil’s secretary, played by Kristen Stewart), offers to show Bobby around and helps him to settle into town. Quickly Bobby falls for her girl-next-door charms, but she is quick to inform him that she is in a relationship with a journalist, named Doug.

Doug, is in fact Phil, but in order to ease any potential tensions, and convinced that Phil will stay true to his word, leave his wife and marry her, Vonnie elects not to let on to Bobby, instead fabricating a tale of how Doug is always away on work, hence his constant absence.

When Phil proves incapable of staying true to his promise, feeling duty bound as he does to honour his long-term marriage, Vonnie decides that enough is enough and finally succumbs to Bobby’s advances. Romance duly blossoms between the two of them, and Bobby, tired of the insincerities of California, is set to hatch a plan to whisk Vonnie away with him back to New York City, where he has been promised an ideal opportunity to put his considerable charms to good effect; running his criminal brother’s swanky nightclub.

Meanwhile, Phil descends into a spiral of remorse and self-pity, and, none-the-wiser, confides in Bobby of all people, his deepest, most sincere feelings for the as yet unidentified, Vonnie.

Such a gilt-edged, burgeoning secret cannot be contained forever, and sure enough, through a twist of fate, the truth is finally revealed, leaving Uncle and Nephew to adopt their new positions as love rivals, and leaving Vonnie with one huge decision to make.

There really is nothing like keeping it within the family.

With Phil finally shaken from his reticence, Vonnie breaks Bobby’s heart. Let enough water flow under the bridge, however, and life always has that funny way of surprising us all…

Woody Allen’s Cafe Society – flitting as it does between the fairytale glamour of Los Angeles and the altogether harder-edge of New York City, is an unapologetically large-scale, sumptuous romantic yarn.

Jessie Eisenberg and Steve Carrell are both superb as the family love rivals and it’s refreshing to see Kristen Stewart removed, albeit it temporarily, from her safety zone to play a character with real layers and substance. There really is only so much pouty agonising over wolves and vampires that one can sit through, I find.

Perhaps most pleasing of all is the fact that Cafe Society successfully blends the joy, pain and anguish of tangled love, with some genuinely funny, old-school Woody Allen gags and wise cracks – supplied chiefly through the interaction between Bobby’s parents, Rose and Marty Dorfman (played wonderfully by Jeannie Berlin and Ken Stott). It’s very much classic Woody Allen in that sense. Something of a genuine throw-back.

I am reliably informed that Cafe Society is shot digitally in a 2:00:1 aspect ratio, originally a high resolution, widescreen format initially pioneered back in the 1950s.

Whether this has anything to do with the pleasing golden hue that seems to envelop the film’s image, I have no idea – possibly not – but it’s an ‘effect’ that lends Cafe Society an epic, old, classic, almost technicolour quality. It’s a flattering look which serves to elevate what is already an excellent piece onto a whole different level altogether.

There’s an enchanting heart and soul to Cafe Society, and that’s arguably something that’s been missing from Woody’s work for quite some time now.

Highly enjoyable.












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