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Film Review: Café Society

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 ★★★

Another year, another Woody Allen movie, but this time, the veteran New Yorker has most definitely got his groove back. 

True, the past twenty or so years haven’t always been great for the legendary filmmaker. Churning out a brand new film every year takes its toll, and more often than not, the results haven’t been great.

Happily though, Café Society is one of the few exceptions to this sad new rule. 

He may have been basically doing the same thing over and over for the past half-century, but you can always guarantee that when Allen’s good, he’s great. 

Punchy characters, human stories and always underpinned by his beautifully unique sense of wit; it’s a hefty recipe and one that, thanks to being well balanced, makes his latest effort his best since 2011’s heavily-celebrated Midnight In Paris. 

Although not quite as flashy, Café Society still very firmly grabs you from the get-go, lunging effortlessly into 1930s Los Angeles and charting the comedic misadventures of a young Jewish New Yorker (Jesse Eisenberg, standing in for Allen himself - surprise surprise), attempting to make a start in the movie business with the help of his estranged uncle (Steve Carell), a hotshot Hollywood talent agent. 

The story takes a few shakes and shimmies from here, largely morphing into a tale of out-and-out romance, spanning many years and many cities, but always somehow staying wildly on target. 

Allen’s infamous for deleting numerous subplots and characters in the editing room, once even reshooting an entire movie after being unhappy with the result, so his works too often feel somewhat disjointed. Café Society however, escapes almost entirely unscathed. 

In fact, as Eisenberg’s naive go-getter Bobby finds himself hopelessly pining after Kirsten Stewart’s cute-but-taken secretary Veronica, you really begin to get a sense of the Allen of the past shining through. The cleverly wrapped cynicism of his comedy remains, but for the first time in a while, there’s a genuine sense of romanticism involved too. 

And, despite the period setting, this isn’t just echoed through some sort of nostalgia trip like previous recent efforts either. This is a tale of love and loss that really feels genuine and masterfully woven together underneath; there’s a real emotional weight that lingers, far beyond the final frame. 

Part of this lands on the shoulders of the fantastically likeable Eisenberg, and his seasoned chemistry with the otherwise fine Stewart, but mostly it just really feels like Woody finally has his groove back again. 

Roughly half way in, Allen pulls the story back around to New York, framing such a jump with one simple shot: a classical glimpse of Manhattan, buzzing with life, as seen (much like a particular famous Allen moment) from below the Queensborough Bridge. A pang of jazzy horns and we’re back in his masterworks of the 70s. It’s almost like he never left. 

Sure there are a few mismatched moments that bubble away underneath the romance: a hammy 30s gangster turn from Corey Stoll that disappears in the edit, a throwaway Blake Lively who is bafflingly underused, but in the long run, Café Society is an unquestionable hit. 

To see Allen back to his almost-best and still cracking wise in the city that made him is an absolute delight, and flaws or not, it remains one of his most beautiful films in a long, long while. 

Café Society is released in the UK 2nd September.  

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