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.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

Subscribe to our newsletter


Maltin tee on TeePublic


Maltin on Movies podcast


Past podcasts


Maltin On Movies Patreon


Leonard Maltin appearances and booking


May 2024