REVIEW: Cafe Society (15) ***

Age cannot diminish Woody Allen.

Friday, 2nd September 2016, 6:00 am
Jesse Eisenberg as Bobby Dorfman and Blake Lively as Veronica Hayes. PA Photo/Warner Bros.

The New York-born writer-director might be strutting towards his 81st birthday, but he shows no sign of easing into creative retirement with a steady output of one film per year.

In Cafe Society, which he also narrates, Allen steps back in time to the decade of his birth, embracing the glitz and glamour of 1930s Hollywood as a vibrant backdrop to a conventional love story of boy meets girl in the right place at the wrong time.

The script is studded with gilt-edged one-liners that have become the filmmaker’s trademark – ‘Live each day like it’s your last and one day, you’ll be right!’ – and not for the first time, Allen cogitates on love between an emotionally conflicted middle-aged man and a younger woman.

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Period detail is impeccable, from the relentless name-dropping of stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age to the vintage automobiles that gleam outside every imposing residence.

Jesse Eisenberg is a neat fit for the filmmaker’s nebbish on-screen alter ego: a dutiful Jewish son in search of independence and self-worth far from his clucky mother’s bosom.

Thankfully, the actor dials down his hapless hero’s neuroses and kindles simmering screen chemistry with his luminous leading ladies, Kristin Stewart and Blake Lively.

Hollywood is indeed the land of dreams.

Bobby Dorfman (Eisenberg) works for his jeweller father Marty (Ken Stott) in New York City,but he yearns for a life of excitement and adventure to rival his brother Ben (Corey Stoll), who is a gangster.

So Bobby bids farewell to his mother Rose (Jeannie Berlin) and heads to the west coast to seek employment with his uncle Phil (Steve Carell), who is a high-ranking talent agent.

‘Drop the ‘uncle’, it’s just Phil. We don’t want to emphasize the nepotism,’ whispers the Hollywood high-flyer.

In order to help his nephew ease into the ebb and flow of Los Angeles, Phil asks his beautiful secretary Veronica aka Vonnie (Stewart) to look after Bobby.

Her kindness kindles an attraction for Bobby, but Vonnie politely rebuffs his advances because she already has a boyfriend, a journalist called Doug.

As the relationship deepens, Bobby learns the truth about Vonnie’s partner and issues an ultimatum that could send him scurrying back to New York City in the company of model agency doyenne Rad (Parker Posey) and her husband Steve (Paul Schneider).

Perhaps another beautiful Veronica (Lively) will lift the emotional gloom...

Cafe Society is an exuberant, if familiar meditation on affairs of the soon-to-be-broken heart.

The lightweight plot jives pleasantly through various highs and lows as Bobby and Vonnie dance around their feelings.

It’s charming fare and slips down sweetly like one of the freshly shaken martinis or whiskies on the rocks that the fame-hungry characters have nestled perpetually in their hands.