“Socrates said, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’ But the examined one is no bargain.”
The experience of watching ‘Cafe Society‘ is akin to sitting in a really comfy chair (coincidentally I was sat in a really comfy armchair at Greenwich Picturehouse when I was watching it). It feels safe and nostalgic, possessing just enough reflexive thought to add some depth but not enough to stop it feeling easy & breezey. You’re in the hands of an old pro (this is the 47th he has made) and whilst this is no ‘Manhattan’ nor ‘Blue Jasmine‘ (few things are really..) it possess the self-assured charm of ‘Midnight in Paris’ along with the accessibility that ‘Irrational Man’ lacked. Few recent cinematic experiences have been this delightful.
Bobby (Eisenberg) has moved to Hollywood from New York after becoming frustrated working for his father. His gangster brother Ben (Stoll) has offered him work but it doesn’t quite carry the same appeal as the buzz of LA. He gets in touch with his big-shot producer uncle Phil Stern (Carell) in the hopes of finding work. Uncle Phil offers him that and a new friend in the form of Vonnie (Kristen Stewart). His feelings for her deepen but they seem futile as she has a boyfriend. A series of events lead Bobby into moving back to New York where he meets Veronica (Lively). Bobby is soon torn between two towns and two Vonnies.
What this film truly deserves praise for is how effortlessly easy it is. This is no criticism. The film flows, the scenery looks exquisite and the performances are enchanting. Kristen Stewart is luminous in her role as friend turned love interest Vonnie – seeming at once ingenuous yet fiercely cynical. Not only does she look extraordinary – there are several shots where she has been lit so beautifully she literally glows – but her performance is masterful. Should she have wanted to silence her naysayers or detractors she does so here with ease – not that she needed to nor likely felt the need to. We can fully understand the enchanting appeal she has over him.
Speaking of ‘him’ I didn’t think I’d say it but I really enjoyed watching Jesse Eisenberg too. As Vonnie points out his ‘deer in the headlights’ look has a certain naive charm and he sparkles as opposed to narcissistic introversion. Lively is good, if slightly underused, as the second Veronica. Carell provides a winning and exceptionally believable portrayal of a charismatic movie mogul – managing to both send up and pay tribute to the souls who ‘built’ Hollywood. It’s this aspect of the film which shines most brightly – it’s anachronistic take on a Hollywood that may or may not have existed which is somewhat reminiscent of ‘Hail Caesar‘ – being a blend of pastiche and tribute.
‘Cafe Society‘ offers very much and takes very little. It woes and charms, easily entertains and does not demand too much energy nor brainpower. Such sumptuous cinematography and rich performances make for a love story that is well worth a watch.
Dir: Woody Allen
Country: USA Year: 2016 Run time: 96 minutes
Cafe Society opened in UK cinemas September 2nd.