No offence intended to Woody Allen, but reviewing his films these days is oddly similar to critiquing the works of Adam Sandler. They might be light years apart in the quality of their output but Allen, like Sandler, is prolific.
Café Society is Allen’s 47th feature, and by now most people know exactly where they stand when it comes to one of his films: you either love him or hate him, so the main job is to assess where his latest work stands in comparison with his previous films.
After the darker meditations of Irrational Man, Café Society is a return to playful tone and period settings of Magic in the Moonlight, although this time Woody is back on his home turf. Actually, the film it most closely resembles is his underrated 1987 comedy Radio Days: like the latter, Café Society is an affectionate salute to a bygone era – in this case the golden age of Hollywood – where the rich and famous rubbed shoulders with gangsters and other crooks.
As with the earlier film, Allen doesn’t appear on screen but narrates the proceedings, with Jesse Eisenberg proving to be a more than adequate stand-in as a naive young New Yorker who moves to Los Angeles to work for his Uncle Phil (Steve Carell), a powerful Hollywood agent, and ends up falling for his PA (Kristen Stewart). The first half of the movie is set primarily in LA, the latter half in New York, with Eisenberg returning to the city and carving out a new career as the manager of a high society nightclub bankrolled by his gangster brother (Corey Stoll).
As is always the case with his movies, the performances are first rate – Eisenberg uncannily channels the nervy, neurotic charm of the younger Allen, while Stewart is particularly good as the love of his life – and it’s beautifully shot by Oscar-winning veteran Vittorio Storaro, who brings both the opulence and magic of the era gloriously to life. And while the script doesn’t have anything new to say about familiar Allen preoccupations such as fate and lost love, the gags constantly hit the mark.
While not up there with his very best, Café Society is Woody Allen’s most satisfying film since Blue Jasmine – and, in case you are wondering, it’s much better than anything Adam Sandler has ever done.
In cinemas: October 20, 2016
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell
Directed by: Woody Allen