Welcome to part number 47 in Woody Allen's series on romantic films of the world's cities: 'Café Society'. This time around he kills two birds with one stone by taking on both Los Angeles and New York in the same story. Sure, we're taken back to the swingin' 1930s, but is this yet another - and much less interesting - 'Midnight In Paris'?
Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg, 'Now You See Me 2', 'Batman v Superman') moves from Hollywood after growing bored of New York. Lured by the glitz and glamour, he instead finds Tinseltown shallow and vein, and is ready to throw it all in - until he meets Veronica (Kristen Stewart, 'Clouds of Sils Maria', The 'Twilight' Saga), who prefers the name Vonnie. The two hit it off, and after much persuasion from Bobby, start a relationship, but their love is torn apart by stronger forces. Jesse moves back to the Big Apple to manage his brother's high-end nightclub, and succeeds liberally. One night, he meets another Veronica (Blake Lively, 'The Shallows', 'The Age of Adaline') - a stunning blond (and recently divorced) bombshell. When she falls pregnant the two are married and live happily - until Vonnie comes back into Jesse's life. Is he over her, or does the flame still burn for his first true love?
SWITCH: 'CAFE SOCIETY' TRAILER
What is lovely is to see both LA and New York in a new light. Whenever we're in Hollywood, it's literally glowing - everything's coloured with a sunny orange hue - while New York is bathed in blues. Accompanying this is cinematography by Vittorio Storaro ('Apocalypse Now', 'Last Tango In Paris') as close to film as you will find these days with digital cameras.
However, that's the sum total of the film's assets. Eisenberg is a bit flat, and there's very little charisma between him and Kristen Stewart. Blake Lively does what she does best - playing her usual flirtatious self - yet she's relegated to a bit part with little to do other than portray the shadow of the original Veronica. The only one who seems to be having much fun is Steve Carell, yet his character is so unlikeable, so it's difficult to fully enjoy his performance.
Eisenberg is a bit flat, and there's very little charisma between him and Kristen Stewart.
There's no disputing Woody Allen's ability to create nostalgia. The attention to detail to return us to the 1930s is refined - costumes, hair, make-up, sets and locations all get the gold star treatment. It's a shame the same level of detail couldn't be placed into the writing of the script. What we have, in the end, is barely more than boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy meets other girl with the same name. It's not complex or nuanced, and the crackling Woody Allen wit of the past is dialled well down.
For a movie that spends a good portion of its time looking back at the golden age of Hollywood, 'Café Society' insists on being a very anti-Hollywood film. There's no closure, not everything resolves itself, and there's no fairytale ending. You could argue that these are typical Woody Allen tropes, yet I was considerably dissatisfied with what we are presented with. You can't be sold a film about romance without the chemistry. Similarly, you can't leave a story unresolved when its flimsy structure is the only purpose for the film's existence. This is no 'Midnight In Paris'; in fact, it's far from it. If you're keen for some true nostalgic Hollywood, best wait for 'La La Land'.