Not Allen’s best work.

by Steve Pulaski

Café Society has Woody Allen in a mood different than in his last couple films. In Blue Jasmine he was fixated on profiling the ugliness in depression. In Magic in the Moonlight, he intently focused on religion and secularism. In Irrational Man his most recent film, he profiled depression, revenge, and existentialism in a uniquely comedic way. In Café Society Allen takes a few steps backwards and makes a film that’s nicely written and directed concerning loyalty, in authenticity, and sometimes, nothing at all, all in true Allen fashion.

The film revolves around Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg), a young man in 1930s New York, who ditches his father’s business in order to pursue a life in Hollywood. He makes an effort to connect with his uncle Phil (Steve Carell), a powerhouse talent agent who is hell-bent on getting Ginger Rogers on his roster of incredible performers.

It doesn’t take long for Bobby to meet Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), his uncle’s beautiful young secretary, who he falls in love with almost instantly. The only thing preventing them from entering in a formal relationship is Vonnie claiming she is in a relationship with someone named “Doug,” who is a journalist. In fact, Vonnie is dating Phil, keeping her love-life a secret from Bobby despite the passion they share.

Café Society
Directed by
Woody Allen
Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell
Release Date
15 July 2016
Steve’s Grade: B-

When the inevitable comes around, the true characters in Bobby and Vonnie come out. While Vonnie begins to embrace and emulate the same kind of spoiled Hollywood life she used to mock, Bobby becomes the owner of a massively successful nightclub, run by his gangster brother Ben (Corey Stoll), embracing the very life he once saw as predicated upon “everything you hate rolled into one thing.”

If nothing else, Café Society succeeds in handling the idea of authenticity amongst people. It shows two people who probably would’ve hated the person they became if they saw them. Eisenberg gives a performance as close to the classic Woody Allen performance I’ve ever seen, going as far as to practically emulate and perfectly match the stammers, nervousness, and anxious personality of an Allen character found in a film like Crimes and Misdemeanors or Manhattan.

Stewart, in addition, winds up being a scene-stealer whenever she’s placed in the forefront. Her early scenes with Eisenberg, where her character is trying to play two distinct and challenging roles with two different men, working to love both of them when knowing she can only choose one, show her being an extremely convincing presence. She echoes a lot of Emma Stone’s sensibilities and talents in Allen’s previous two films while giving her own spin on the elegance the 1930’s own “café society” is fabled for.

Café Society shows its long-winded side when it begins to enter its third act, as the dramatic heft becomes lessened and the focus becomes the aforementioned element of authenticity takes prominence in the script. When the third act hits, the film begins to show its aimless side, settling for practically a collection of disjointed scenes that try and give together romance, lavish lifestyles, and crime activity. Allen has the directorial and screenwriting talent to be able to tie these together pretty nicely, but here, the wear and tear on the narrative connective tissue begins to show.

On top of that, there isn’t really an extractable theme as there is in most Allen films other than being a showcase and a fairly average lesson in characters showing and proving how authentic and earnest they want to be to their original ideas and beliefs. Instead, Café Society settles for being a generally funny, thoroughly amusing work that, despite showing the talents of Eisenberg, Stewart, and even Carell in some respects, lacks the staying power and thematic strength of even Allen’s most recent pictures.