When the lead character in Woody Allen's latest bittersweet romantic comedy describes his new life in Los Angeles to relatives back home in New York as "kind of half bored, half fascinated" I have to admit I felt the same about this film.

It's a beautifully crafted period piece that brings to life the glitzy Golden Age of 1930s Hollywood and the glamorous nightlife of New York - hardly Depression America. The costumes are exquisite, the cinematography luminous, the acting wonderful, and there are plenty of witty Woody Allen quips to smirk over. Yet, for all its classy production values, Café Society isn't as invigorating as Allen's top-notch work can be.

Don't get me wrong, it's hardly a misfire from the 80-year-old filmmaker, but its nostalgic tone and predictability means it's light and charming as opposed to memorable.

As we've come to expect from Allen, both his manner and life are reflected in the characters on screen. Jesse Eisenberg plays Bobby, a New Yorker from the Bronx who moves to Los Angeles in the hope of getting work with his famous Uncle Phil (Carell), an agent in Los Angeles.

In the scene where Bobby tells off a young woman trying to kick-start her career as a prostitute, Eisenberg plays it just as you imagine a young, over thinking Allen would - it's amusing to watch, but lacks originality.

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It's hard not to think of art imitating life when Phil, a successful man in an industry full of egos, unravels over the decision as to whether he should leave his wife for his young mistress.

Carell is a surprisingly good choice to play Phil as he schmoozes his way around swanky Hollywood parties, but the most interesting thing about this character is that for a man who knows everyone, he's got no one to share his midlife crisis with, except the nephew he's just met.

Steve Carell is a surprisingly good choice to play Phil as he schmoozes his way around swanky Hollywood parties.
Steve Carell is a surprisingly good choice to play Phil as he schmoozes his way around swanky Hollywood parties.

Most surprising though is the lovely performance Allen coaxes out of Kristen Stewart. Not only does she look incredible under cinematographer Vittorio Storaro's (Apocalypse Now, The Last Emperor) warm amber glow which saturates the screen, but as Phil's assistant and Bobby's tour guide she's warm and natural, and it's easy to see why men become transfixed by her.

There are plenty of other gorgeous creatures to admire including Veronica (Blake Lively), a New York divorcee who catches Bobby's attention, as well as a raft of characters who feel they've have been plucked from various other Allen films over the years - especially when it comes to Bobby's family.

Introduced to us via a rather irritating Allen narration, these characters are colourful but are really just filling out the screen around three people as they question their lives, loves and regrets - and wonder what if?


Cast: Steve Carell, Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart
Director: Woody Allen
Running Time: 96 mins
Rating: M (Violence, drug references, sexual references)
Verdict: Charming, light and nostalgic.