I cut a wide swath for Woody Allen and always have, but even I have to admit that Café Society is one of his weakest films. It isn’t dull, thanks largely to Santo Loquasto’s exquisite production design, evoking vintage Hollywood and New York City nightlife in the 1930s. Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro makes the most of these settings and the beautiful women who populate the film.
But the story is undernourished and its flimsiness is underscored by Allen’s heavy-handed narration. He feels the need to connect the dots for us even when the points he’s making are fairly obvious.
Jesse Eisenberg plays a young New Yorker who chafes at the idea of going into his father’s jewelry business and decides to try his luck in Hollywood, where the only person he knows is his uncle, a hot-shot agent (Steve Carell). The uncle is dismissive at first but hires him as a gofer and instructs a nice young woman in his office (Kristen Stewart) to show him around Los Angeles. Eisenberg is immediately smitten and after a time she begins to have feelings for him as well. But this is a star-crossed romance, for reasons that should be fairly clear to anyone who’s ever seen a movie before.
Eisenberg steers clear of imitating Woody, thank goodness, but it isn’t always easy to accept his character’s naiveté. The other cast members do yeoman service (especially Scottish actor Ken Stott, who is flawless as a cranky New York Jew) but they can’t rescue a screenplay that doesn’t even provide us with a definitive or satisfying denouement.
Even though I have to write this film off, I take comfort in knowing that Allen is already working on another movie as well as his first TV series, and because inspiration still strikes from time to time there is good reason for camp followers like me to remain optimistic.