Life, love and laughter
CAFE SOCIETY (M)
Director: Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris) Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Blake Lively, Corey Stoll, Parker Posey Verdict: To laugh at life is no loving matter
“Life is a comedy,” says Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg). “But it is written by a sadistic comedy writer,” he adds, as if to warn us of the impractical jokes the fates have scripted him as he makes the journey from wide-eyed to world-weary in Cafe Society.
This trifling yet tremendously appealing period piece is the latest work from prolific veteran filmmaker Woody Allen. Now in his 80s, Allen is very much moving through the twilight of a busy and varied career. Though this sits mid-spectrum in terms of his overall output, it is hard to think of a throwaway film more delightful or diverting in 2016.
Principal settings are Los Angeles and New York City in the late 1930s. As the story begins, Bobby has ditched the Big Apple for Hollywood with dreams of hitting the big time.
His entry pass comes courtesy of an uncle who is the most connected agent in Tinseltown, Phil (Steve Carell). Not only does this fasttalking, quick-thinking operator show his nephew the showbiz ropes. Phil also puts Bobby in touch with a beautiful secretary in his employ, Veronica (Kristen Stewart).
Bobby couldn’t have a better guide as he gets his bearings in unfamiliar and exciting surrounds, and it isn’t long before he is hopelessly smitten with his new friend.
If it looks for all the world like romance is in the wings, you’re right and you’re wrong. If we fast-forward to a few years later, Bobby is back in NYC running a swank nightclub and married to a different beautiful Veronica (Blake Lively).
What happened along the way? That’s where those cruel comedy writers come in.
On a general level, Cafe Society is happy to indulge in the same swiftquipping, quick-witted nostalgia for old Hollywood as the recent Coen brothers’ film Hail, Caesar!
However, Allen’s open affinity for his characters and sly affection for how they keep thinking with their hearts instead of their heads forges a surprisingly personal connection to proceedings for viewers.
Eisenberg and Stewart give off a star-crossed chemistry, while the glorious cinematography of the great Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now) exudes an inviting glow that is beyond irresistible.