Bobby Dorfman (Jessie Eisenberg) leaves his family in New York to live in Los Angeles to work for his Uncle, Phil (Steve Carell), a busy talent agent. In LA, Bobby is introduced to Paul’s secretary, Veronica (Kristen Stewart), who Bobby is instantly smitten with. Veronica, however, has a boyfriend who she claims is a journalist named Doug, in reality the boyfriend is Bobby’s uncle, Paul.
Since 1982 Woody Allen has been releasing at least one film every year, some of them are up there the best of his works and others look as though he sleepwalked through the entire thing. His more recent films such as Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine are his best films of this decade but Café Society lacks the charm of Midnight in Paris and the excellent characterisation of Blue Jasmine. Café Society is a charm free exercise in which Jesse Eisenberg’s Bobby Dorfman's (Bobby Dorkman more like) awkwardness may charm Stewart’s Vonnie but leaves anyone else rather mystified to why he’s so highly liked. Stewart herself is pretty decent in her role as is Steve Carell but Blake Lively is wasted in her criminally underwritten role.
Narratively the film feels disjointed, Blake Lively’s Veronica is randomly introduced as Bobby’s wife before we’ve even met her (their meeting is later explained in flashback in the very next scene) and the narrative’s lack of charm seriously hampers how much we care about any of the characters. As uneven the film’s narrative is, Café Society is one of Allen’s finest looking films as the set design is appropriately extravagant and Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography is exquisitely beautiful. It’s just shame that it was wasted on a film with a story that’s that so uninspired.
The film is confused to whether it’s supposed to be a love letter to the golden age of Hollywood cinema or aiming to lament it. Characters are regularly seeing the latest swinging swashbuckler, screwball comedy or epic romance but, at the same time, the film critiques the shallowness of name dropping the stars yet proceeds to the exact same thing. Instead of creating an appreciative loving atmosphere of the movies of Hollywood’s golden age Allen’s script simply has his characters namedrop various 1930s (and earlier) movie stars (such as Robert Taylor and Bette Davis), directors (such as D.W Griffith) and studio heads (such as Louis B Mayer).
Cafe Society is one of Woody Allen’s weaker efforts, let down by a love triangle that not engaging on any level.