Woody Allen’s love letter to the 1930s starts in Los Angeles with Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) leaving New York, looking for more excitement than the family jewellery business can provide, and arriving at the office of his uncle, big-shot Hollywood agent Phil Stern (Steve Carell) looking for work. Bobby falls in love with Phil’s assistant Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), who already has a boyfriend, and although Vonnie has feelings for Bobby, when forced to make a choice she picks the other man. A devastated Bobby returns to New York, where he successfully runs his gangster brother’s Ben’s nightclub, and marries a beautiful divorcée (Blake Lively). But when Vonnie visits, with her now husband, she and Bobby are thrown together again, and left to reflect on what might have been. The ending is beautifully-judged, and more melancholic than I was expecting, freighted with the sort of measured, reflective, equivocal regret that comes with age.
Café Society is admittedly slight, but it’s elegiac and entertaining late-period Allen. Significantly, it looks utterly glorious: Vittorio Storaro (Last Tango In Paris, Apocalypse Now) is, for the first time, Allen’s cinematographer, and he suffuses just about every scene with a ravishing golden light. And, as ever with Allen, the performances are good. Eisenberg is excellent, transitioning smoothly from faux-Woody (the younger Bobby in LA), into the more cocksure New York nightclub proprietor. Steve Carell is entertainingly bullish. Blake Lively might, had she been given more time, have stolen the show. But the real star is Kristen Stewart, who turns in a subtle and moving performance; it could be argued that she looks and sounds a little too modern for a film set in the 30s, but one suspects that the camera would have loved her in any era.