This year saw the release of Café Society, the latest film by Woody Allen. Set in the 1930's, it starred Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart and Steve Carell as three parts of an awkward love triangle.
Jesse Eisenberg is Bobby Dorfman, a young neurotic who moves to Los Angeles to work for his uncle Phil (Carell), a wealthy talent agent. Though he is tasked with small errands, he gets to opportunity to attend a lot of fancy parties and he soon falls in love with Phil's secretary Veronica (Stewart). What Bobby doesn't realise, however, is that Veronica is having an affair with Phil, who is unsure whether to leave his wife for her or not. This sort of plot is very reminiscent of other Woody Allen films so this new outing definitely suffers from some overly-familiar scenes here and there. The love triangle is only the focal point early on in the film as Bobby eventually moves back to New York where he starts working in a club run by his brother Ben, who happens to be a gangster.
The interesting thing about Café Society is how it gradually merges Bobby's story with his brother's. A rather subtle parallel is drawn between how Ben, a criminal, is in the middle of a Jewish family with a religious side and a more humanist side and how Bobby himself is having to decide between pursuing his true love Veronica or settling with his new wife also called Veronica (Blake Lively). Had the film been a little more creative and unpredictable with its storytelling, this could have been fleshed out further and made for a fascinating gem. As it stands, this is a slight effort by the prolific director with a lot of interesting things to say but no unique way in which to say them. It's well made, the performances are all solid and it looks great but Café Society is more fun to think about than it is to sit through, especially with a particularly unenthusiastic narration by Allen himself.
Although it certainly could have done with more surprises plot-wise, Café Society remains one of Woody Allen's better recent efforts. It's definitely worth checking out but I wouldn't say it's essential viewing unless you're a fan of the filmmaker's work.
Good, not great.