Cafe Society: Woody Allen On Cruise Control

Written By Matt Taylor

Cafe Society Poster

Cafe Society Plot Summary:

In the 1930s, a young Bronx native (Jesse Eisenberg) moves to Hollywood where he falls in love with the secretary (Kristen Stewart) of his powerful uncle (Steve Carrell), an agent to the stars. After returning to New York, he is swept up in the vibrant world of high society nightclub life.

After a fifty-year career, one can forgive Woody Allen for starting to repeat himself. With a habit of churning out a film each year, all won’t be homeruns.  Seeing as how Allen has already helmed a number of classics, no one movie will tarnish his legacy as a writer/director. Even lesser Woody Allen is still pretty darn good.  His dialogue is always fun to listen to, and he has a knack for getting great performances out of his actors. There aren’t any groundbreaking themes being explored or jaw-dropping twists, but Café Society is fun and reliable in all the right ways.

Cafe Society pic 1

Jesse Eisenberg, the perfect Woody Allen surrogate, stars in Café Society as Bobby, a New Yorker who moves to Los Angeles to try and find a career and, more importantly, something in life to get passionate about. Working for his movie producer uncle (Steve Carell), he finds a muse of sorts in Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), a secretary who doesn’t care about the glitz and glamor of Hollywood. But, in true Woody Allen fashion, complications ensue.  Vonnie is seeing a married man, and Bobby receives a tempting job offer back in New York, leading to a messy romance that spans two coasts and multiple years.

Thematically, Café Society, doesn’t explore any ideas that Allen hasn’t already focused on.  The difference in lifestyles between the East and West is the primary focus, and a handful of existential questions tossed in for good measure. But Allen’s script helps prevent any staleness, thanks in part to Allen’s characteristically fresh dialogue. He also creates a genuinely compelling romantic quadrilateral, and balances a number of smaller subplots with the main storyline. It also helps that this might be Allen’s most visually compelling film ever, with beautiful costumes and sets, as well as some stunning cinematography. There are some mild pacing problems.  The opening could have been trimmed by five to ten minutes, but in general, the script doesn’t feel as repetitive as it should.

Like most Allen films, this is primarily a showcase for a talented ensemble that all bring their A-game. Jesse Eisenberg channels Woody Allen quite well, with just the right mix of quirkiness and cockiness in his performance to keep the character interesting, even when he isn’t all that likable. In smaller roles, Corey Stoll, Parker Posey, Blake Lively and Jeannie Berlin also do nice jobs. The real highlights are Steve Carell and Kristen Stewart. While he’s not the lead, Carell has possibly the most difficult part as Phil Stern, a big shot producer who is nowhere near as confident as he appears. In one brilliantly staged scene, we see him seamlessly warp back and forth between being the arrogant man he projects to others, and the pathetic man he is at his core. Stewart, meanwhile, displays more energy and charisma than ever before, completely disappearing into the role. She plays off both Eisenberg and Carell perfectly, and makes the film infinitely more entertaining whenever she walks onscreen. If there’s any reason to see Café Society, it’s the cast, especially Stewart.

After fifty years, it almost feels unfair to compare every new Woody Allen film to the 47 that preceded it – especially since the man is responsible for some of the best films of all time. Sure, this isn’t the next Annie Hall, but then again not many films are. Whether you’re a Woody Allen fan, or just someone looking for a good time at the movies, Café Society will probably satisfy.

Rating: 6 out of 10