It’s been a while since we wrote a review, and it always feels so strange to do so. We have been covering Café Society for over a year, following its every step. This isn’t impartial, and we bring all the baggage of his previous films in with in. If you want a more general review, there’s plenty online. But here’s ours.
Walking out at the end of this film, the strongest sense I felt is that it was made by an old man. You can feel the ache of the decades – whether through the exaggerated beauty of the past, or the thick slab of regret that is slathered over everything. By the end, and the final scenes, Jesse Eisenberg begins to look miscast. There really should be a much older man having the camera pan around him.
After 46 films, and hundreds of stories, you can tell that Allen loves the writing of things more than anything else. And mainly, the writing is strong. The middle of the film – where the audience knows more than the characters – is a masterclass of writing. Every emotion is bled through – it’s almost Alfred Hitchcock in its level of tension and suspense. And there’s plenty of good lines, and plenty of wild characters.
And there’s pleasure in the individual scenes but Allen again stumbles putting them together, relying on clunky narration to bridge scenes and introduce characters. The worse crime in the whole film is how the narrator tells us Bobby is in love, and doesn’t show us. And perhaps after all these decades, Allen is sick of wasting time. We never spend time with the characters, we are always moving forward. And it feels like we just fell short of really getting to know any of them
If Allen is caring more for the writing, then it’s the directing that suffers. He’s done a great job on the film’s look (kudos to cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and costume designer Suzy Benzinger), but there’s more than a couple of glaring bits of tone that doesn’t fit. Brother Ben (Corey Stoll) and Anna Camp are comic relief in the wrong film. The morality of murder is discussed, but for what?
But this is good stuff, and look no further than the leads. Eisenberg is wonderful, especially in the film’s second half, when he has more complexity and conflict to deal with. Kristen Stewart rules the start of the film, her radiant beauty matches her struggle with the love triangle she finds herself in. Steve Carell plays it wonderfully, and its impossible to imagine Bruce Willis being so sympathetic, funny and awful at the same time. Blake Lively, for our money, steals the show, by being the good soul in the middle. She takes a flimsy part and makes it a human. Parker Posey does the same.
This film has been compared to other nostalgic look backs in Allen’s career like Radio Days and Bullets Over Broadway. For us, it’s probably closer to Vicky Cristina Barcelona – full of heart, and very bittersweet, with no easy answers. Or Sweet And Lowdown, with it’s heartbreaking romance at the centre. We wish it could have been longer, it felt like we barely got to know everyone. But such is the nightlife.
It’s not amongst his best work, even of this decade. But it’s a solid entry in his immense filmography, one that stayed for days in our minds. It packs an emotional wallop, and probably Allen’s biggest tearjerker in many years.
Café Society is out in Australia on 20th October.