Fans of Woody Allen are used to his quirky forays into cultural icons, from a 1970s' “Love Letter to New York” to literary Paris in the Jazz Age. The promise of a 1930s' portrayal of Hollywood starring Jesse Eisenberg, Steve Carell and Blake Lively was naturally exciting news. It's upsetting to say how underwhelming the actual experience was.
Cafe Society, as the trailers suggest, is a sneak peek into the glamorous Hollywood life that beckons starry-eyed visionaries, wholesome in their innocence and optimism, until all the wealth and duplicity makes sceptics of them. Young Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) moves from New York to Los Angeles to find work – any kind of work – in his Uncle Phil's hotshot Hollywood talent agency. He gets close to Phil (Steve Carell)'s lovely, down-to-earth secretary Vonnie and what follows is a web of confusion, tangled relationships and disappointed dreams.
Although it builds on the premise of a social satire, the movie is more about small, hidden love stories and an inconsequential string of heartbreaks that exist amid all the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. These people sparkle in their giant movie productions and social celebrations, but face tragedies that would normally be dramatized in any other setting. That's the point it tries to get across - that even the richest are human.
Unfortunately, the message doesn't really get across. The familiar Woody Allen jazz intro, the golden filter, the gorgeous set-up and the even more gorgeous Blake Lively make the movie aesthetically stunning; but you don't really buy it. Jesse Eisenberg's passion for both Hollywood and his heroines seem flaky and Kristen Stewart's single-expression range of emotions makes it difficult to understand why everyone is enthralled with her, leaving Steve Carell and Blake Lively as the only characters who seem believable.
The premise of the movie is charming, as is its making, but it leaves you feeling empty; you want to care about it, but you don't.