Everyone has good periods and bad periods – we're all after all, human, even filmmakers. As an actor, writer and director, Woody Allen has had an amazing career, and he will probably never be better than that period in the 1970s that saw him come out with Bananas, Sleeper, Love And Death, Annie Hall, Interiors and Manhattan. Any filmmaker would love to have just one of those films on their CV, let alone all six. He continued with some strong films in the 80s and 90s (Purple Rose of Cairo is still one of my all-time favourite Allen films) but he hit a major slump in the early 21st century with Match Point, Scoop and the truly awful Cassandra's Dream. Luckily he bounced back from the low, winning awards for Cate Blanchett with 2013's Blue Jasmine and this year wowing Cannes with his latest romantic comedy-drama, Café Society.
It's America in the late 1930s, and young New York Jew Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) decides he doesn't want to work in the family jewellery business and so heads to Hollywood to seek his fortune, hoping to get a job with his uncle Phil (Steve Carell), a powerful agent. Phil gives him a job as an errand boy, and introduces him to his secretary, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), who shows him around LA. The two strike up a friendship, and Bobby soon finds himself falling in love with Vonnie, but she tells him she has a boyfriend, a journalist named Doug, who happens to travel a lot for work. The truth, though, is that she is involved in an affair with a married man.
Beautifully shot, and with the 1930s perfectly reproduced, Café Society is easily one of Allen's best films of this century so far, perfectly capturing a moment in time. It has a very funny script, full of great one liners and digs at Hollywood. The jazz soundtrack is there, Allen himself does the voiceover work (sounding very much all of his 80 years) and his passion for Manhattan is still very much in evidence. It's a fun film for its ensemble cast too, with stellar work from Eisenberg and Carell and probably the best performance we have yet seen from Stewart, showing her career is moving on from its Twilight years. Jeannie Berlin and Ken Stott shine as Bobby's very Jewish parents, and Corey Stoll’s turn as Bobby’s charming gangster brother is a standout.
Café Society feels like a love letter from Allen to a kinder, gentler time. It plays very much as a romantic "best of Woody Allen", full of all the quirks and foibles that he became famous for. There's nothing all that fresh or surprising in the film, but that really doesn't matter – it's a warm and pleasant hour and a half with a bunch of mostly likeable characters, and as the credits roll, you're a little sad that you cannot spend some more time in the company of this café society.