Café Society

Year: 2016
Production Co: FilmNation Entertainment
Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Corey Stoll, Sheryl Lee, Parker Posey, Blake Lively

Along with every other hallmark of Woody Allen's you could mention during any review is the one of him being obsessed with the past. Like the films of Quentin Tarantino or the books of Steven King, there's never a mobile phone, computer or (in Allen's case) even a dusty surface.

Even when such trappings of the modern world are mentioned or shown in his movies set in the modern day they're done so with a mixture of bemusement and mild fear that they're going to destroy the gilded romance of the bygone eras he's constantly looking back on.

In this case it's the golden age of Hollywood, and if you're in any doubt that this is a romantic fantasy, every scene set in Hollywood in the first half of the movie is bathed in a lushly golden light. This is a highly designed fantasy Los Angeles no less than the rain drenched, run-down Asiana of Blade Runner or the garish fashions, crimped hair and faux-family values of Boogie Nights.

Another Allen stand-in, Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) is a thoroughly Jewish, working class New York kid sent to LA under the care of his Uncle, powerful agent Phil (Steve Carell), who vaguely promises to give him a job but barely has time to see Bobby, let alone employ him.

He also falls head over hells in love with Phil's assistant Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) as she drives him around to show him the sights until Phil has something for him to do, but Vonnie's life is more complicated than he can imagine – even while keeping him at arm's length by telling him she has a boyfriend.

The romantic hijinks and heartbreak that characterise a Woody Allen film almost as much as obsessive love of bygone ages ensues and Bobby moves back East, taking over the running of a Big Apple nightclub and becoming a big shot, meeting, falling for and having a baby with beautiful socialite Veronica (Blake Lively).

But when Vonnie and Phil come to visit it rekindles old feelings and the stage is set for another Allenesque tale of star cross'd lovers.

There are a couple of firsts – I've never noticed a voiceover in a Woody Allen movie before (done by the man himself) – and a couple of elements we've seen before like the terrible casting. Eisenberg is perfect for the young, stammering kid full of nerves and tics but, just like when he tried to play Lex Luthor, he's too timid and nerdy to convince as a slick nightlife kingpin who rubs shoulders with politicians and movie stars.

Carell is also surprisingly stiff even while he's trying to be earnest and emotional, seemingly stuck in an uncomfortable no-man's land between the extreme dramatic turn in Foxcatcher and his wacky comedy work in things like The 40 Year Old Virgin and Date Night.

The movie it actually reminded me of a lot is The Lobster. The back half of the movie is not only completely different to the first half, it's very indistinct by comparison, as if Allen got bored and bought in a ghostwriter to wrap it up for him without telling anybody what the first half was about.

After the golden-hued fairy-story of the portion set in Hollywood it has a lot of weird subplots and goes in a lot of strange directions (the one featuring Corey Stoll as Bobby's standover man brother Ben actually turns shockingly dark), and together with the out-of-place actors, I felt like I was watching a different movie from the one I'd started.

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