As my friends know, I am big fan of Woody Allen, and I always look forward each summer when a new movie from Woody is released. Last year's movie, "Irrational Man", was a disappointment, but I am happy to report that both Marilyn and I really enjoyed his new release, "Cafe Society", when we took it in this afternoon.
The movie is a period piece that takes place in the 1930's and stars Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Blake Lively, and Steve Carrell. It is a story of a young man from New York, Bobby Dorfman (Eisenberg) who goes to Hollywood to land a job with his Uncle Phil, a high-powered Hollywood agent (Carrell). While there, the nebbish Bobby meets and falls in love with Vonnie (Stewart), a young woman who just happens to be in love and having an affair with the married Carrell. After that secret is revealed, Bobby moves back to New York and takes up running the sophisticated night club, the high society cafe of the title, that is owned by his gangster brother. While back in New York, Bobby meets another young woman named Veronica, played by Blake Lively, falls in love, gets married, and starts a family. Life is good, but one day, Phil and Vonnie show up in Bobby's New York night club, and complications, as they say, ensue.
It sounds a little confusing, but it isn't really as it plays out before you. Eisenberg is terrific as the "Woody Allen Character" in this one as he fumbles and stumbles around verbally and physically. He may well be the best of all of the Woody Surrogates that have populated Allen's recent movies. Both Stewart and Lively are charming in their roles, and Carrell plays a guy who you would probably want to not like, yet he shows a somewhat touching vulnerability as the blustering Hollywood big shot.
The reviews that I have read for this one have been mixed, with most critics saying that while it may be just okay, its not great because, essentially, Allen is making the same movie that he has made a dozen or so times in the past. Well, this one does remind me of one of my Allen favorites, "Radio Days", in a number of ways: the period setting, the Jewish family discussing what life has dealt them as they sit around the dinner table, the travails of the main character's extended family, the fact the Allen himself serves as the voice-over narrator of the film, and the climactic scene that takes place in a night club on New year's Eve.
So maybe Allen has made the same movie before, but to that I say "So what?" He tells the story with enough of a twist to differentiate it from past movies, and he tells it with humor, good writing and direction, and with terrific actors. It is also a beautiful movie to look at, especially since Allen has returned to New York City to film much of this one. It has been awhile since Woody has set a movie in New York, and his love affair with his home town shows up as strong as ever.
The Grandstander (and Mrs. Grandstander) give 3 and 1/2 stars to "Cafe Society".