Movie Review: Cafe Society
Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell
by Jason Koenigsberg
Woody Allen continues to write and direct a movie a year and lucky for us, his latest feature Cafe Society is the sort of thought provoking, funny and emotionally engaging romantic comedy that Woody Allen has specialized in for the past forty-five years. In many ways Cafe Society feels like your typical Woody movie with a lot of Jewish and neurotic humor but this film romanticizes Hollywood’s Golden Age instead of New York City.
It starts off as all Woody Allen movies do with the same Windsor font for the opening credits accompanied by jazz music. The first shot is a lavish one showing people at a high society party in the 1930’s. The blue colors of the pool and the night sky are really striking against the white mansion where the party is taking place. Allen himself does not act in this but uses his distinctive voice as the narrator. We learn that this party is being hosted by Steve Carell’s character, a powerful Hollywood agent to many big movie stars.
As with all good Woody Allen movies, the acting is superb. Steve Carell who previously starred in Allen’s Melinda and Melinda (2005) has a much bigger role here and he plays smarmy and deceitful with a comedic charm that few other actors could demonstrate. He replaced Bruce Willis during filming and even though Willis is an excellent actor in his own measure, Woody made the right call and utilizes Carell’s skills perfectly.
The other two actors that really stand out are Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart (together again after Adventureland and American Ultra). Once again Eisenberg is playing the young Woody Allen-type lead. A Jewish, nebbishy, neurotic, hopeless romantic that Allen would have played years ago. Eisenberg played that role already in Woody Allen’s To Rome With Love (2012) and he is even better here because he is allowed to give a deeper and more nuanced performance with elation and heartbreak. A young Woody Allen is kind of the part Jesse Eisenberg was born to play (unlike Lex Luthor, ugh).
Kristen Stewart gives a very believable and relatable performance as an ingenue who during her time in LA and experiences with the men in her life gradually develops into a different type of character.
There is a love triangle in Cafe Society which as been done in many other Woody films but few as poignant as this. There are moments that illustrate heartbreak and disappointment here that are on par with scenes from Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) and Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) two of Allen’s finest pictures about the complexities of the human heart. There are two great scenes at a coat check station that will resonate deeply with the viewers and the powerful final moment of the film is one that illustrates the randomness of love and relationships and will leave audiences pondering what it all means and is love and life really worth all of the heartache these characters go through.
All of these are familiar themes in Woody’s filmography and Cafe Society works splendidly with funny dialogue in the script and features great use of color on the screen. The costumes capture the period well but the lighting and the vibrant color tones add dramatic effect that few films these days bother to capture.
Cafe Society takes place in New York and Los Angeles and once again Woody makes LA superficial and bleak. He shows LA as a cold city where the only thing warm about it is the weather. It is good to know that at age 80 Woody Allen can still craft a smart and funny film where the screenplay and cinematography matter more than any special effects that the summer blockbusters rely on. Woody’s recent output may be inconsistent but Cafe Society is one of his best film in years.