After directing 46 films, Woody Allens finally makes the transition to digital with his latest, Café Society, and wow, is it glorious. Woody never seems to get much recognition for how gorgeous his films look, and all the little stylistic flourishes sprinkled all throughout his work. What stuck out most here is how cinematographer Vittorio Storaro photographs his precise compositions at a two-point perspective. What works so well about this approach is that establishes a center-focus to the frame. Allen has always been a character-centered filmmaker, and it is clear that just from an aesthetic standpoint, he puts an enormous amount of emphasis on his cast of characters like very few directors working today do to such great of an extent.
What’s always been one of the most drawing factors about Allen’s work is his ever-changing ensemble that he brings to each of his films. With Café Society, Allen brings in Kristen Stewart, Blake Lively, and Corey Stoll, along with reteaming with Steve Carell, Parker Posey, and Jesse Eisenberg yet again. Eisenberg’s certainly much more suited here than he was in To Rome with Love a few years back. Playing the typical neurotic character one would expect from any Woody Allen film, Eisenberg does a surprisingly great job slipping into the role. His calculated gestures and stumbling speech pattern feel just like Woody in seventies and eighties.
Allen certainly focuses on Eisenberg’s arc the most, but it is impressive how much he is able to work the other characters’ story lines into the film in such a short period of time. It’s not quite a kaleidoscopic look at the ensemble, but there is a sense of narrative payoff for each character at the end of the film, as Allen successfully ties off many of the smaller tidbits that pop up over the course of the narrative.
Café Society runs into trouble in regards to the overall presentation of Eisenberg’s character, Bobby’s approach towards the opposite gender. Take the scene where he has a call girl come over and ridicules her after she knocks on the wrong door and admits that it is her first time doing this. It is here when Allen’s lack of female perspective really begins to show. With his best work, there is always a female perspective countering the male egotism that Allen usually surrounds his films around. Since this is so laser-locked onto Eisenberg, Café Society feels very insular to one perspective, which certainly isn’t a good look.
As the film moves over from Los Angeles to New York, Allen luckily begins to play with Bobby’s family dynamics as he’s now working with his brother (Corey Stall) and in a new relationship. Some of the dynamics certainly will feel familiar to those fluent in Allen’s filmography, but it’s such a delight to see him return to his grass roots that it’s hard not to love the kinetic flow that runs right through Café Society.