Café Society is a nostalgic reminder of Hollywood in the 1930s with all the beauty, the glamour, the dreamy possibilities while also including the ugliness of backstabbing and greed that ran through this society. Like most Allen movies, it is a romantic tale that goes through its conventional twists and turns as the man and the woman contemplate their relationship and their conscience. In this instance, this contemplation is accompanied with the love-hate affiliation that Allen has with Los Angeles.
Opening with a shot of a grand Hollywood pool party that were the norm of the time, the film introduces us to the successful talent agent, Phil Stern (played by Steve Carrell). He is informed that his nephew, Bobby (played by Jesse Eisenberg) is coming to Los Angeles and he is to help set him up. Alas, Hollywood keeps Uncle Phil busy and Bobby is left to himself to find his way through the unfamiliar culture and conversations of Hollywood. When he does manage to meet Phil, he is passed on to his bright and friendly assistant, Veronica, or Vonnie (played by Kristen Stewart) to show him around. Veronica shows him around the beautiful city and despite mentioning her boyfriend often in their conversation; it is not long before both grow close and Bobby starts falling for her. Love blooms as they spend more time together but it is soon revealed that Vonnie is dating none other than her boss and Bobby’s uncle, Phil. Bobby realises the fakeness that resides in the background of all things Hollywood and goes back to New York to take over a nightclub owned by his gangster brother. Now Vonnie must choose between a lifetime of wealth and glamour with Phil or being with the love of her life, Bobby.
The plot of the film is pretty simple and follows a rather languid, slow pace that could seem leisurely at times, especially when you savour the music, the cinematography of the film and nostalgia of those times. But at the same time, it could also seem boring because you can only sympathise with these characters to a certain extent and the comedy does not evoke as many laughs as the film expects you to. It is only in the final act of the film that the entire plot seems to come together and it is only the tragedy of the film that succeeds in making it interesting.
The performances of the actors are surprisingly good. Jesse Eisenberg gives a good performance after the disaster of movies he has had this year. Most surprising of all is perhaps the performance by Kristen Stewart who is charming, energetic as well as emotional which is completely opposite to the roles that she has played so far. The direction of Allen is brilliantly shows us the perfect period setting but the film fails to create an interesting narrative to keep the audience consistently engaged.
Café Society is successful in showing the musings of Hollywood and its relationships from the perspective of a writer and director who has seen the industry changing through the times. But as a romantic comedy, it is just another mediocre film with a predictable plot despite the brand name of Woody Allen.
Cafe Society is on general release now