Café Society    
Directed by Woody Allen     
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell   
96 minutes

Woody Allen has been alternating romantic dramas tinged with existential angst with romantic comedies for years. Last year he gave us the drama Irrational Man; this year it’s a comedy, Café Society.

In Café Society Allen narrates — it’s a voiceover story from beginning to end — a love story between a young New Yorker who travels to Los Angeles to take on the world and a spontaneous and attractive girl struggling with a major emotional dilemma. The film, set in Los Angeles during the 1930s with the film industry world as a backdrop, is also a love letter to cinema expressed with subtle but biting irony.

Allen’s universe is present from the first frame. It’s evident in his trademark themes: infidelity, unrequited love, dissatisfaction with life, religion, fear of death, as well as in his choice of locations: New York, gangsters, night clubs, jazz…

Allen’s presence is also notable in the dialogue and in the overall style of the film. He is always striving for perfection, although he seems aware of a certain repetition in his use of themes and language. The film stands out for its detailed photography, elegant lighting and staging and impeccable wardrobe (with some surprising twists like the contemporary socks with sandals sported by Kristen Stewart).

As in the rest of his films, actors parade the screen so superbly directed that it appears no one is guiding them behind the camera. Jesse Eisenberg portrays. Allen’s recognizable alter ego, a character with a mix of passion, ingenuity and clumsiness. Kristen Stewart, (who is working really hard to leave behind Bella, the vampire she played in the Twilight series), manages to create a more subdued character, and Steve Carell is excellent in his role as a ruthless businessman wounded by Cupid’s arrows (which in Allen’s films look more like missiles than arrows).

The problem is that, as in the rest of Allen’s films over the years, the story, though well told, is little more than a façade covering his nostalgia and Weltschmerz. Café Society returns to themes of unfulfilled desires, of love that aspires to be eternal but remains superficial, and the perceived inability of human beings to remain faithful and find happiness. All this is portrayed without passion and with Allen’s trademark frivolity.

In the end, rather than an appetiser or a dessert, Café Society feels more like a bubbly glass of champagne. You enjoy it while it lasts…but it leaves no lasting impression.

Ana Sánchez Nieta is a film reviewer for Aceprensa. Translated by Isabel Cullen.