Movie Review: Café Society

In “Café Society,” one of the characters puts forth the philosophy that you should live every day as if it were your last because one day, it will actually be. This is not a bad idea, and if you are a character in a Woody Allen movie, you may use this to justify having an affair with a much younger woman. But because it is a Woody Allen movie, you will likely have doubts and several scenes where you express them, as Steve Carell does here. “Café Society” takes place in the nineteen thirties in both Brooklyn and Los Angeles, which are not always the default settings for Allen films, but the central plot remains familiar.

In the movie, Jesse Eisenberg plays a bright, but somewhat naïve young man (read: Allen’s alter ego), who decides he doesn’t want to go into the family business in Brooklyn (which, as it turns out, is a wise decision, as we’re shown right away it has something to do with the Mob). So he moves to L.A. where his uncle (Steve Carell) is a big shot in the movie industry to see if he can pick up something there, and that’s where he meets Kristen Stewart, who offers to show him around and eventually, with whom he falls in love. Kristen’s character works as a girl Friday for Steve’s; she initially came to LA starry-eyed and aspiring to be an actress, but is now over that. Though she claims to have a boyfriend who’s a journalist and travels a lot, it becomes clear that it’s actually (spoiler-alert!) Steve, who is married but is experiencing serious moral anguish about leaving his perfectly lovely wife. Eventually, choices are made, and Jesse winds up back in Brooklyn, managing a nightclub that his brother owns. There is neighbor drama, in which it’s clear the boorish security guard picked the wrong homeowners to blow off. And eventually there’s a reunion between Jesse, Steve and Kristen, in which Jesse may or may not get a second chance.

Last year, Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart teamed up to star in “American Ultra,” which I have not seen, but from the trailers, looks like what might happen if the characters in “Clerks” discovered they were government-controlled agents and were given guns. Judging from the trailers, too, I would say that it is far more action packed than “Café Society,” in fact it looks as if it could be called the “anti Café-Society.” This film does have violence, too, but it’s more stylized; the main conflict plays out away from Jesse’s gangster relatives. The movie is rather sweet, but slight, and as the critics have pointed out, Kristen has trouble filling the shoes of veteran Allen film actresses, Diane Keaton and Mia Farrow, but one day, you never know.

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