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Café Society (8/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 96 minutes.

OK for children.

What writer/director Woody Allen has done best in his latest movies is to capture the ambience of the period he is filming, through outstanding production design, fine costuming, and evocative music. This film is no exception. In fact, he might have reached his zenith in recreating Los Angeles and New York in the ‘30s. During pre-production they looked at my house as a location but it wasn't '30s enough.

Allen’s clever story and script involving Hollywood and New York café society are delivered with spot-on performances by Kristen Stewart, Jesse Eisenberg, and Steve Carell. The Los Angeles locations are filmed so lovingly that it makes one yearn to be there then instead of now.

I first remember seeing Stewart in Adventureland (2009) in which she also worked with Eisenberg. I said at the time,

“…the person who stole the movie for me was Kristen Stewart…, the girl who captures (Eisenberg’s) heart. She is the one who has to express her hidden emotions through her eyes. While she is a girl interested in a guy, she always shows that there’s something serious bothering her. It is her performance that makes this film something special.”

Since I’ve already said it once, this description perfectly describes her performance in this film, too. Stewart is an actress of enormous talent who lost her way in those horrid teenage-vampire movies. I know, they made lots of money, but Stewart is too talented to waste it on junk like that. Recently she’s worked in much higher quality films like this and last year’s Clouds of Sils Maria.

While the music is wonderful, I have a small criticism of the multiple uses of “Mountain Greenery,” which was the first hit written by Richard Rodgers (with lyrics by Lorenz Hart). While it has a catchy, lively melody, it was a hit in 1926, and I doubt that it was still being played in the late ‘30s as often as shown in this movie.

Spoiler alert. Of the actors mentioned, Stewart gives the strongest performance. In fact, the film wouldn’t be nearly as effective without her nuanced acting as a woman who is loved by two men. But Carell and Eisenberg still carry their weight adding the comedic touches of two men (an uncle who is a bigtime movie producer and his neophyte nephew) longing for the same woman.