Francesca Steele

The Allen way

Wonderful performances – from Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart – fill the screen but ultimately nothing really comes to anything

Woody Allen has made a film nearly every year in the four decades since the release of the award-winning Annie Hall. Every one is hailed as a potential return to form, and of course some definitely are. Blue Jasmine, say. Possibly Midnight in Paris. How do the late-era Allens compare with the earlier ones? It’s an increasingly tricky question to answer the more prolific the writer/director is.

However, perhaps a more useful question than ‘how good is it?’ is ‘will you actually enjoy Café Society?’, his latest. And the answer, most probably, is ‘Yes’.

Woody Allen is banking on the amiable, half-witted quality of this latest work, enveloping audiences in gorgeous cityscapes and big-name celebs in the same way he has done a lot in recent years (the sumptuous Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a prime example), but this time more completely, with 1930s Hollywood and mob-era Manhattan taking centre stage. His characters mock those who indulge too unreservedly in the splashy luxuries of life before later succumbing to their appeal — and perhaps the same might be said of Allen’s audience here.

We have Jesse Eisenberg as Bobby, the neurotic Jewish innocent, shamelessly (and with slightly creepy perfection) channelling the younger years of his director, who meanwhile delivers a croaky, clichéd voiceover as his protégé navigates the difficult business of growing up, falling in love and making a success of life, whatever that means of course, at the cost of his naive charm.

Bobby, a lifelong Bronx resident, sporter of an unfashionable Pompadour hairstyle and fan of the simpler things in life, goes to seek his fortune across the country in Los Angeles, a place where the sunset is always elegantly crimson and everyone at parties bitches and wears beige.

There he has his requisite run-in with a first-time working girl (whom he sends home with full payment, unsoiled) and meets his hotshot agent of an uncle (a surprisingly forgettable Steve Carell) as well as his enigmatic assistant Vonnie, played by Kristen Stewart who is superb here, with none of the self-conscious lip-chewing that usually makes her such a tricky watch.

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