Love Letter from Rudolf Valentino

Café Society

cafe_society

Director: Woody Allen

Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Corey Stoll, Blake Lively, Ken Stott, Parker Posey, Sheryl Lee, Jeannie Berlin, Stephen Kunken, Sari Lennick, Anna Camp

Opening the Cannes Film Festival in 2016 in typically whimsical fashion, Woody Allen’s Café Society is set between the golden age of Hollywood and the gangster nightclubs of New York.

Auteur director and veteran screenwriter Woody Allen like many of his previous films, decelebritizes his stars and makes Cafe Society a brilliant ensemble piece. At the centre of the witty comedy are two sterling performances by naïve Bronx youngster Bobby wonderfully played by Oscar nominee Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) and seemingly ordinary yet duplicitous Vonnie, played by Twilight star Kristen Stewart.

Vonnie is the secretary to Bobby’s powerful uncle Marty Dorfman, played by Oscar nominee Steve Carell (Foxcatcher). The smooth talking Marty introduces Bobby to the Hollywood inset as he hires his nephew to become general gopher and invites him to sumptuous brunches at his Hollywood Hills mansion. There Bobby meets chic New York couple, Rad and Steve, played by Parker Posey (Grace of Monaco) and Paul Schneider (Water for Elephants).

It’s really Vonnie that Bobby is in love with, but Vonnie is dating a powerful married man and as a surprise for her boyfriend’s birthday she buys him a framed love letter from Rudolf Valentino. That love letter becomes the main visual key for Café Society as soon a love triangle emerges which places Bobby in an awkward familial situation.

Meanwhile, back in New York, audiences catch a glimpse of Bobbie Dorfman’s Jewish family, his dotting mother superbly played by Jeannie Berlin and his father played by British actor Ken Stott. It’s really Bobbie’s gangster brother Ben who has gone into the nightclub business who is the centre of the Bronx world. Ben is superbly played by an unrecognizable Corey Stoll who was so tremendous in the Netflix’s series House of Cards.

Bobby is crushed when Vonnie calls off their impending romance on a Malibu beach and soon returns to the glamourous world of nightlife, helping his nefarious brother Ben at one of his dazzling nightclubs. As the action of Café Society shifts seamlessly from Los Angeles back to New York, audiences know that they are back on familiar Woody Allen territory.

Part of the New York set is the fabulous Veronica Hays who Bobbie dutifully falls in love with, played by the gorgeous Blake Lively, even though he secretly pines for the more illusive Vonnie.

Wonderfully irreverent to anything vaguely serious, Café Society is a gorgeously shot comedy with gorgeous costumes and suitably fabulous production design, pointing to the fact it’s one of Woody Allen’s most expensive films.

cafe_society_ver3

With a witty script and outstanding performances by an ensemble cast especially Eisenberg and Stewart, Café Society is recommended viewing in the vein of similar Allen films like Bullets over Broadway. Allen’s faithful recreation of the Hollywood golden age in Café Society certainly signifies that his European phase is over, which did produce some brilliant social comedies including Matchpoint, Vicky Christina Barcelona and his acclaimed Midnight in Paris.

Café Society is a breezy and funny affair, tinged with delightful moments of guilt mixed with old fashioned nostalgia. A refreshingly stylish visual feast especially in this age of CGI and digitally reliant cinema.

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