“Life is a comedy, written by a sadistic comedy writer.” Oh what a painfully true sentence, written with such self-deprecation that it could only have come from one Hollywood funny-man *drumroll please* Woody Allen! Yes, that’s right, the self-made walking Hollywood stereotype of Jewish men everywhere is back with yet another romantic comedy. Ever wonder what it was like to be a newcomer in Hollywood’s prime? Ever wonder what it’s like to feel unrequited love in the glitz and glamour of the movies? Well go watch My Week With Marilyn and you’ll find out. However, if you’d like a funnier, broader and vaguely Goodfellas-esque take on all these things then look no further. Café Society is here, and to quote my favourite FBI Agent – it’s ‘a damn fine cup of coffee’.
“And then I said, ‘Hey, want me to ruin Lex Luthor?’ And they said, ‘Sure, it’s only DC’ “
Café Society is written and directed by Woody Harrelson – I mean Woody Allen, and stars Jesse Eisenberg (American Ultra, Adventureland), Kristen Stewart (American Ultra, Adventureland – heywaitaminute), Steve Carell (The Big Short) and Blake Lively (The Shallows). It’s the story of a small town (*cough* New York) boy livin’ in a lonely world (Hollywood – aw, that’s actually true) and he took the midnight train called unrequited love, goin’ straight to dear-god-my-emotionsville.
Café Society tells the story of Bobby (Eisenberg), a New-Yorker who’s come to visit his uncle Phil (Carell) in Beverley Hills. I know, the last time anyone visited Uncle Phil in Beverly Hills the Fresh Prince got into all kinds of craziness, but there’s no Jazzy Jeff here. Bobby is hungry for success, and the glitz and glamour of 1930’s Hollywood is the place to be. As his uncle takes him into the inner circles of the biz, young Bobby begins to grapple with not only the world of showbiz but with that fickle mistress: love. Here we meet Vonnie (Stewart), Phil’s secretary and Bobby’s love-at-first-sight. In classic Woody Allen style, comical stammering, quick fire convo’s and hijinks ensue.
Gatsby’s parties declined rapidly after he asked Jay-Z to DJ.
First off, Café Society is spectacularly cast; Steve Carell is terrific as a classic Hollywood agent who is perpetually busy, Bake Lively’s charm matches her glamorous looks as she slips seamlessly into 1930’s stardom, and Stewart and Eisenberg have incredible chemistry as always. I say ‘as always’ because this is not this couple’s first lovesick rodeo, oh no no no! This duo are old hands at this ‘star-crossed lovers’ thing by now, having paired up in Adventureland and American Ultra prior to this goo-goo eyes affair. I have to come clean and admit I’m a real sucker for these two, as their chemistry is just lightning in a bottle compared to almost any other romantic pairing in movies today. From the moment they first meet you know it’s on like Donkey Kong, and with how effortlessly watchable these two are together you forget that you’ve seen them do this dance before.
Other solid supporting performances come from Corey Stoll (Ant-Man) as older brother Ben, who channels the Goodfellas part I mentioned earlier as a less-than-legit businessman who offers a few laughs. Jeannie Berlin and Ken Stott also give great performances as Bobby and Ben’s parents, complete with Woody Allen’s signature Jewish jokes. Top this off with neat little cameos from Sheryl Lee (Laura Palmer – Twin Peaks) and psycho Sarah Newlin herself (Anna Camp, for those who don’t know True Blood), and you’ve got one great recipe for success here.
“And then I said, ‘Hey, want me to ruin Lex Lu-‘” “Bro, my Husband’s Green Lantern.”
Now what would a good romantic comedy be without the comedy? Well, honestly, that’s a stupid question so let’s forget I asked it. In Café Society we see Woody Allen’s sharp witted writing back in great form, possibly better than it was in Midnight in Paris (which is amazing and I will fight you if you say elsewise). Allen writes a good mix of quick-fire jokes, semi-serious jabs and smart, modern slapstick that is always a welcomed return on the screen. Much like Shane Black’s writing in The Nice Guys in early 2016, Woody Allen’s style is one that you forgot you missed until you see it again. Jesse Eisenberg delivers plenty of great moments that would have the King of the charmingly befuddled himself, Mr Hugh Grant, grinning from ear-to-ear. While Kristen Stewart is given less of the comedy sandwich to chew on she still pulls out a very charming performance, and I don’t just say that from Stewart-induced-lovestruckness. That said, Stewart is part of perhaps the most hilarious scene in the movie; in which she and Steve Carell try to have a serious conversation while being constantly interrupted by Hollywood’s elite. It’s very much Frasier comedy, folks. In other words, some of your friends might not get the joke, but that’s okay. They’re stupid and you’re allowed to feel bad about thinking that, you rightfully judgmental person, you.
“Don’t call me Brendanawicz, Parks and Rec is dead to me!”
Though you come for the comedy, you ultimately stay for the humanity. Just like Midnight in Paris (and other Allen films), Café Society is written with a deeply human sense of emotion and reality. Allen knows that the real world is not a fairytale, and he seems to like reminding us of this in the more fairytale-like places we try to escape to in his movies. Hey, you like following your artistic dreams in Midnight in Paris? Nope it’s not that simple, here’s a reality check. Hey, you believe in love-at-first-sight and everything working out like a storybook? No you don’t, don’t let the door that says ‘life sucks’ hit you on the way out. Yep, in a slightly masochistic way this type of romantic drama really hits the nail on the head for me. There’s something particularly great about watching two people anguish over the metric tonne of crap that life throws at them and their plans for one another, no matter how it turns out. Needless to say, and my possibly embittered feelings on love aside, Café Society paints an up-and-down roadmap of the heart that takes a few predictable routes and a few sharp turns that are sure to keep you interested. Plus, it presents the impossible choice of Kristen Stewart or Blake Lively? In which case I call a draw and fall before the feet of Ryan Reynolds. Loyal to the end, boo.
Little did Maxwell Smart know that Hollywood was KAOS’ new headquarters.
Café Society really felt to me like a strange baby made from Goodfellas, When Harry Met Sally and Hail, Caesar! It has a little narrating, a little crime, a little will-they-won’t-they, and some classic Hollywood shenanigans. In short, that is a brilliant blend of cinematic goodness, which is backed by the top-notch directing. Woody Allen has proven to be a mainstay in the film industry, and his directing here really speaks to that ‘classic style’. From old school fade-ins with radial wipes to the more contemporary-classic feel of the Scorsese ‘floating camera’ vibe, Allen walks between worlds here to deliver a film that you know is made in-the-now, but feels so very old fashioned. I dug the CRAP out of this film’s style; already a sucker for classic Hollywood I was in from the get-go, but the mix of classic and Scorsese really brought this film alive in a way I didn’t expect. Great stuff, a time-capsule film that gets classic Hollywood right. I’m sure Baz Luhrmann sits deep in thought over this, somewhere quiet like a Broadway stage show.
Ultimately, Café Society is old-made-new again in a big bad way. Bad meaning good, not bad meaning “Hey are you excited for the next Divergent movie?”. Café Society is classy, smartly funny and a very enjoyable trip down romantic-drama lane. If you’re a fan of the Eisenberg/Stewart rom-com club sandwich then this is another satisfying serving; as their chemistry, much like my love for Ryan Reynolds (seriously, why won’t you return my calls?) just refuses to die. Even under court order. I loved Café Society and would highly recommend checking it out for yourself. Dianne, order me an Oscar nomination, I think this coffee might be award worthy.
Café Society is available now on DVD and Digital, so check it out! Head over to the eOne website for more information.
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SUMMARY: A smooth blend of smart comedy and grounded emotion makes Woody Allen the Barista of the year for romantic comedies. Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart are -again- a powerhouse of chemistry, with Steve Carell also bringing a great performance to the table. Whether you’re a fan of classic Hollywood, the film industry or just want a good rom-com-drama, Cafe Society is the house blend you’ve been waiting for.