From left, Jesse Eisenberg (foreground), Blake Lively and Parker Posey in ‘Café Society’
From left, Jesse Eisenberg (foreground), Blake Lively and Parker Posey in ‘Café Society’

You wouldn’t think America was in the Depression in Woody Allen’s 1935-set Café Society. Veteran cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now) makes the place jaw-gapingly gorgeous: a full-colour chiaroscuro that mixes velvety shadows with voluptuous hues. If we must have works of comedy-drama fluff from this once great filmmaker — and these years it seems we must — they might as well ravish the senses.

Jesse Eisenberg plays the Woody surrogate, a neurotic young New Yorker sent by his family to Hollywood to try and bag a job with studio-mogul uncle Steve Carell. But at first we barely pay him any attention. Nor love object Kristen Stewart as Carell’s Girl Friday. Woody Allen himself delivers the voice-over narration with its sub-par epigrams. (Best: “Live every day like it’s your last, and one day you’ll be right.”) We’re in the gutter — or the popcorn clutter — gazing up at the stars. We ogle like ensorcelled idiots the swoony screen pictures. Even in New York City, where Eisenberg’s bad-seed brother (Corey Stoll) is running murders and nightclubs (“café society” of a different kind), every image looks a million dollars.

If only the film sounded as good. We’d shoot the pianist for a start: the light jazz soundtrack seldom lets up. And we wish the dialogue, for all the sad-funny passion Eisenberg and Stewart try to inject, sounded less like “We’re doing The Great Gatsby with our own discount take on F Scott’s acid-etched nostalgia.” The gangster scenes in New York are better than the Hollywood scenes, but that’s not saying much. When you leave a movie thinking only of the cinematography and production design (Santo Loquasto), something has gone wrong. It’s like leaving a maternity ward hugging the cards and flowers instead of the baby.

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