"Café Society", the latest film from Woody Allen, doesn't break any new ground, although since he's an acknowledged master of his art, this is no criticism.
Set in the 1930s, it stars Jesse Eisenberg stars as Bobby, a Jewish New Yorker who goes to Hollywood, hoping that his uncle, a high-flying agent played by Steve Carell, will give him a job. There, he falls in love with a beautiful woman who is patently out of his league - Kristen Stewart. Soon, however, circumstances send him back to New York, and involvement with his brother's not entirely above-board business activities.
Courtesy of legendary cinematographer Vittorio Storare (“Apocalypse Now”; “The Last Emperor”), the look is warm and lush throughout, complemented by the soundtrack of jazz standards; and Allen’s voice-over, which is not as annoyingly expository as in previous films, gives it the feel of an extended short story. Not quite a comedy - although there are numerous funny lines - it is more a rites-of-passage tale, as Eisenberg’s awkward, idealistic Bobby grows harder and more cynical as life deals its lessons, harsh and otherwise.
As usual, the casting is key: Eisenberg avoids imitating the young Woody, and Carell relishes the role of a powerful but conflicted man (in a role apparently meant for Bruce Willis); it’s good to see Ken Stott as Bobby’s crabby father, and Sari Lennick is also impressive as his supportive sister.
It’s been said before, and one hopes it will be repeated several times in the future: Woody Allen treading water effortlessly outdoes most other filmmakers.