Magazine article Screen International

Cafe Society': Cannes Review

Magazine article Screen International

Cafe Society': Cannes Review

Article excerpt

Dir. Woody Allen. USA. 2016. 96mins

Visiting a romanticised past has sometimes served Woody Allen well (The Purple Rose of Cairo, Midnight in Paris), sometimes rather badly (the recent Magic in the Moonlight). But the glitter of the 1930s American beau monde rubs offhandsomely in Café Society, a bittersweet comedy of manners that sees Allen pushing the boat out stylistically and in narrative ambition, even as he treads familiar ground. Sumptuous visual execution plus a top-rate ensemble cast should place this in the high altitudes of Allen's recent commercial successes, especially in France, where it opens simultaneously with its launch of the Cannes official selection.

Essentially a tale of individuals losing their illusions as they find their way to worldly success, Café Society opens at an L.A. poolside party at the house of powerful, name-dropping Hollywood agent Phil Stern (Steve Carell). Allen's own voice-over narrates a constant zigzag between L.A. and New York, where we meet the Dorfmans, the working-class Jewish family of Phil's sister Rose (Jeannie Berlin).

Rose's son Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) soon arrives in L.A. looking for new avenues and, after a false start, is given a mailroom job by his uncle Phil, who also introduces him to his secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart). She's a down-to-earth soul, unimpressed by Hollywood pretensions, and Bobby falls instantly for her. But an irony that might strike some as just too darn neat stands in the way of their happiness, and Bobby flies back home. There he reinvents himself as the front-of-house charmer at the chic Manhattan nightclub run by his brother Ben (Corey Stoll), a gangster who's built his empire on sudden death ("If you ask nicely, people will listen," he says, dumping a business associate into a cement pit).

In some ways, there's little here that is truly surprising, although what could have been deeply mechanical in the development of Bobby's path actually works out with a ring of classical ironic logic. In recent years, Allen has often seemed stifled by the vignette-style concision of his anecdotes (as in last year's philosophical trifle Irrational Man). Here he opts for a more expansive narrative scale, spinning his story out over a year and zig-zagging between different sets of characters and sub-plots that build up teasingly. …

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