AMAZON STUDIOS / LIONSGATE (2016)

Director: Woody Allen

Starring: Jessie Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Blake Lively, Parker Posey, Corey Stoll, Ken Stott, Jeannie Berlin

Marking Woody Allen’s 47th motion picture, Cafe Society is a fine homage to the golden age of Hollywood, with nostalgic throwbacks peppered all throughout – films, actors, actresses, posters, it’s all there.

 

Visually, the movie is stunning, an incredibly beautiful work. Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro has helped to create a gorgeous picture – the incredible pool parties, the beach scenes, the wonderful nightclub shots, the intelligent and striking framing all through the movie, the golden light that envelops Vonnie (Stewart) upon her introduction, the power dimming at Bobby’s (Eisenberg) leaving Vonnie and him immersed in silhouette - these being just a handful of examples, as all of the efforts really come together to present a visually incredible movie.

Not just the glitz of Hollywood, the grimy, bleak depiction of New York is the perfect reversal and really highlights the differences that Allen wants to show. Bobby’s beige and brown suits that blend into the walls really clang against the sharp colours and dress in Hollywood!

Eisenberg plays the jittery, naive-turned-mature Bobby and is the obvious characterisation of Allen himself. The role is handled very well, from the initial starry eyed young man to the fresh Romeo and to the savvy, charming nightclub owner he later becomes, his scenes with Stewart lend themselves to a natural chemistry and provide the best moments of the film, and he becomes a character that you root for during the movie – even after a few questionable actions. Carell is great as the beleaguered, torn powerhouse and portrays the high-life loving mogul just as well as the desperate, confused in love gentleman. Parker Posey shimmers in her role within the film’s third act, giving Bobby the glamorous girl he seeks and playing the role with ease.

The star of the movie undoubtedly is Kristen Stewart. Her performance oozes a natural sensitivity and a magnetic scene stealing gravitas. Her portrayal of a woman caught between two men, content with her hand but always with part of her left with the other man, is captivating. Her turn throughout the movie as a grounded, unpretentious secretary to being eaten by Tinseltown’s glamour is delivered brilliantly. A great performance by a very good actress. Twilight this was not.

As the movie played out, it bought with it familiar Allen tropes – the barriers of love, one liners (and Jewish one liners), mortality, the chasm between Los Angeles and New York, and of course, the Woody-esque protagonist – which in turn creates a typical Allen film of the last twenty years. It’s hard to decipher whether this is a negative aspect, but when stacked against triumphant previous efforts, it does become a black mark against the movie. Throughout the movie (though probably to be expected) you are hit in the face with piano jazz, so prepare yourself.

Where at points, the movie didn’t seem to really want to give anything up, or even to deliver a gratifying narrative, it is more than made up for by a splendid finale – a bittersweet yearning for what may have been, and the love never fulfilled. Beautifully shot, it provides a fitting ending to what came before.

Though the movie is not Allen’s finest work, Cafe Society still holds up and provided a fine getaway from the here and now and transported me to a far more beautiful looking place.

 

A fine movie for a late summers evening.

September 29th 2016

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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