Prolific Allen returns with 1930s romantic comedy that hits mark

Natalie Stendall.

Film reviewer for Mansfield and Ashfield Chads
Natalie Stendall. Film reviewer for Mansfield and Ashfield Chads

Cafe Society has all the trademarks of classic Woody Allen: a knotty love triangle, smart Jewish comedy, a stellar cast and evocative jazz soundtrack.

It’s not as riotously funny as the trailer might have you believe and lacks the substance of Allen’s modern tour de force Blue Jasmine, but it is amongst the best romantic comedies this prolific director has delivered in recent times.

Cafe Society transports us to 1930s New York and Los Angeles where the sets and costumes drip with gold, diamonds and furs.

In these surroundings, the naivety of LA newcomer Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) is especially endearing. His uncle, leading Hollywood producer Phil Stern (Steve Carell), offers him a job where he meets the peppy and intelligent Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) who remains similarly immune to the temptations of glamorous Beverly Hills.

The subsequent love triangle plays out with a mix of surprise and inevitability. Kristen Stewart and Blake Lively (as rival love interest Veronica) imbue their characters with so much truth it hardly seems to matter that we can predict the crises before they happen.

Allen pumps an undercurrent of tragedy into the whole affair as Cafe Society’s young people - including New York gangster Ben, whose violence is played for maximum laughs - make a series of faulty, irreversible decisions. The conclusion is dreamy, even a little cheesy, but offers no firm resolution.

As his characters consider the absence of an afterlife in the Jewish faith, Allen finds a perverse kind of comedy in our one chance to live life true to ourselves.

4/5