Film Review: Woody Allen’s latest Café Society (USA, 2016) offers a nostalgic but throwaway look at the great depression

Woody Allen’s latest film should be renamed “High Society.” This beautifully-shot comedy is a nostalgic but throwaway look at the glitz and glamour of some halcyon days in Hollywood and the smoky nightlife of New York. It’s ultimately like a pleasant and lightweight dream that celebrates money even though the thirties was synonymous for some with the great depression.

Café Society is like most of Allen’s films in that it is full of snappy dialogue and features the famous director as a sleepy narrator. One of the best pieces of advice this film offers is to “Live everyday like it’s your last because one day you’ll be right” as well as other existential points and jabs at religion. This may be a romantic tale but in true Allen style this romance is one where your head is in charge, not your heart.

Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg doing his best Woody Allen impression) stars as a wide-eyed kid who is initially seduced by the bright lights of Hollywood. Bobby’s Uncle Phil (Steve Carell) is a Hollywood hotshot. He takes pity on his nephew and offers the kid some odd jobs. Bobby seems to enjoy elements of La-La land (his encounter with a first-time prostitute is hilarious) but he soon comes to hate the excess and fakery of it all. It’s a sentiment that is shared by his uncle’s secretary, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart who proves she doesn’t need to pout her way through every film.) Stewart puts in a fine performance where the chemistry with her former cast mate, Eisenberg is particularly obvious.

Vonnie is given the job of showing Bobby around town. The two youngsters bond over Mexican food and Bobby becomes completely smitten. But Vonnie holds her cards closely to her chest. The reason she does so is because she’s smart and savvy and because she also has an elusive boyfriend that she started dating a year before meeting Bobby.

Eventually Bobby returns home to New York. He takes a job working in a nightclub with his gangster brother. Bobby meets a divorcee at the club (an effervescent Blake Lively) and romance blossoms. The pair seem happy until Vonnie shows up at the club with someone Bobby knows all too well.

Café Society is like The Great Gatsby in that it celebrates youth, beauty and jazz. The story itself is quite flimsy and predictable but it’s a film that offers entertainment and enjoyment, pure and simple. This depiction of love triangles and professional dreams is one opulent ride and a fun look at a brief but rich period in the thirties in America. In Café Society’s world the depression never happened and everyone was free to enjoy themselves, rambling through the richness and splendour that was the society set. This is ultimately fun for audiences to watch but don’t expect it to change your life or your riches.

Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Café Society opens in Australian cinemas on October 20.