Title: Café Society
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Cinematography: Vittorio Storaro
This year’s Woody Allen’s ritually annual dish charts a humdrum Bildungsroman of a young Jewish American Bobby Dorfman (Eisenberg) in both L.A. and the Big Apple during the 1930s, where in the former, he arrives to seek opportunity through nepotism from his well-heeled uncle Phil (Carell), a high-level talent agent in Hollywood, but instead, he falls in love with Phil’s comely secretary Veronica, aka. Vonnie (Stewart), and vice versa, only, she is also the other woman involving with a married man (a knowing coup de maître plays out wonderfully albeit being an ever-familiar cliché), who will offer her something she can hardly resist, so it takes a heartbreak to grow up, as a result, what doesn’t kill Bobby only makes him stronger.
Back to New York where resides his family, Bobby works for his mafia brother Ben (Stoll in an ill-fitted wig) to run a fancy nightclub, and improbably excels in his job, effortlessly greets and mingles with the club’s upper-class clientele, Bobby’s transmogrification from self-effacing to gregarious is stunning, however the process is casually skipped, also he successfully woos a stunning-looking divorcée Veronica Hayes (Lively), soon they marry and have a daughter. But when Vonnie visits the club with her husband, they finally meet again and admit their undying affections towards each other, but against the well-honed romantic motif, they are not above to strike up an extramarital affair, which leaves the movie’s abrupt cessation mostly like an anticlimax, maybe Allen is in his wits’ end to render a more resonant finale because of his habitual working ethos, and he just cannot afford to be slowed down even in his 80s, the timing is ticking.
Eisenberg impresses with a vivid imitation of Allen’s mannerism and neurotic inflections, and Stewart also remarkably shows her ranges in a character designed with both stereotyped materialistic pursuit and scintillating congenital charm, plus, she and Eisenberg exude great chemistry together (the third time is a charm!). It is invigorating to see Ms. Berlin (the daughter of Elaine May) continue radiating her flair on the silver screen after decades of absence (she is magnificent in Kenneth Lonergan’s MARGARET 2011), and the Jewish tropes constitute a great proportion of the film’s laid-back levity, but the corpse-cementing scene seems to too morbid after being repeatedly presented, and the subplot revolving around Ben, his criminal activity and his comeuppance doesn’t nearly occupy Allen’s concoction after all.
Actually, this picture heralds the very first collaboration between Allen and Italian DP maestro Vittorio Storaro, and the outcome is strikingly entrancing, its glossy environs (first the alluring orange template in L.A., then a grandiose extravaganza of New York’s café society atmosphere) meshes fluidly with the jazz-infused soundtrack and Allen’s own mock-serious voiceover, which unwittingly proves itself as a marvelous exemplar of form-over-substance making.