Café Society has Woody Allen’s fingerprints, retinal scan, and thumbprint all over it. The performances of several characters, however disjointed, are magnificent. However, Woody Allen’s realm, his playground behind the camera if you will, is relatively limited. Yes, as a character in one of his prior films suggested, the same premise can be kaleidoscopically twisted and turned to become a drama, a dystopian drama, a romantic drama, a romantic comedy, or a flat out tragedy or tragicomedy. Really, Woody Allen’s movies are almost the same with the exception of the perspective on the same issues being slightly different and narrowed uniquely for that production. Café Society has Woody Allen as its director, writer, and narrator. Insofar as that is tenable for Allen (which it is because the actor has proven himself dozens of times over), it is somewhat limiting and tedious for viewers.
Onward to the good stuff. Kristin Stewart has never been this demur, this desirable, this sexy. She has a sort of dramatic flair alongside Jesse Eisenberg. She feels comfortable performing with him and as a consequence she reveals more of her acting talent. Her performance is one to admire and to build on. Allen has brought out her best to date and she really needed a quality director to harness her talent.
Meanwhile Eisenberg is Woody Allen’s pseudo-doppelganger. Eisenberg is a fellow bumbler, stutterer, clumsy fellow, and awkward eccentric. Eisenberg is easily able to relate to Allen and vice versa to the point that he becomes the younger version of Allen that Allen would love to have at the ready for all of his movies. A future collaboration between the two would be most welcome. Allen misfired with Emma Stone and Joaquin Phoenix despite their obvious verve, but with Stewart and Eisenberg he hit the jackpot.
As for the termination of Bruce Willis’ contract, who can say how the movie would have come across had his antics not been slothful and intolerably dismissive. Steve Carrell does an admirable filling in, and he adds a great deal of irony and the role-reversals divorcees invite when the tables turn on them. There is something to his lack of self-awareness as only Carrell can manage.
Overall, Café Society is not a must-see movie, but it does contain two must-see performances, those of Stewart and Eisenberg. Therefore, it remains on the periphery of Oscar consideration but do not get your hopes up.