Almost every new Woody Allen film is heralded as a return to form for the 80-year-old director. But while his latest big hits Blue Jasmine and Midnight in Paris were excellent examples of storytelling, the ideas that made him a household name in the '70s and '80s -- the ones that gave his films that special, identifiable Woody Allen-y-ness -- truly come home to roost in this romantic and funny new release.
In Café Society, themes of death, life, love, guilt, religion, choice, chance and fate are lightly tossed about by the emotionally incontinent in a nostalgic vision of the 1930s Hollywood golden age. Allen finally gives up his throne as signature lead, finding his replacement in the monumentally talented Jesse Eisenberg, who arrives on our screens fresh from the acclaimed Louder Than Bombs and his West End debut, The Spoils.
Eisenberg's character, Bobby, is a nervy, jittery boy from the Bronx. Bobby's mother thinks she can get him a job with Uncle Phil: a Hollywood super-agent who hosts brunches and cocktail parties for the rich and famous at his house, and who doesn't so much name-drop as name-pour.
Uncle Phil, played by the larger-than-life Steve Carell, is frustrated with having to give his gawky nephew a job, but nonetheless brings Bobby into this honey-soaked, glamorous world. Phil's jaw-droppingly beautiful secretary Vonnie, played by Kristen Stewart, is tasked with showing Bobby around.
Unrequited love, the kind that strikes a chord in the hearts of everyone everywhere, blossoms under the encouraging glow of Vonnie's charm. But when Bobby runs into trouble professionally and romantically, he returns home to work with his dangerous gangster brother (Corey Stoll) to run a nightclub in trendy New York.
Bobby's lust, longing, and pain are left behind in Hollywood, and without these emotions the film's second half sags a little. Life for Bobby moves on and away from Vonnie. He becomes a different man: competent, successful, famous in his own right. And yet, in essence, he finds himself unchanged. Eisenberg convincingly shoulders the differences between both man and boy, physically adapting to age and confidence.
Shot by Vittorio Storaro, the man behind Taxi and Apocalypse Now, the two worlds of New York and Hollywood are dazzling. Like Allen's homages to both Paris and Rome, the cities become glittering, mystical worlds of unreal suave and charm, as Storaro's shots of New York reference Allen's great 1979 work Manhattan.
Those who have never watched a Woody Allen will enjoy this emotional, romantic story – an honest look at the workings of the heart – smothered in quick quips that form the perfect marriage of silly and serious. And for those fans who fell in love with the director 40 years ago, it's a total nostalgic pleasure: recognisably and unmistakably a great Woody Allen film.
|What||New Woody Allen film: Café Society review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
02 Sep 16 – 31 Oct 16, Film times vary
|Website||Click here to go to the Café Society IMDB page|