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Many things can be and have been said about Woody Allen, but one thing is for certain – Allen knows how attract a compelling cast that make his offbeat comedies shine. Case in point, his latest film, Café Society. Opening this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Café Society lands in selects cities on July 15 (and opens wide on July 29). Although it doesn’t reach the soaring heights of his recent Midnight in Paris or Blue Jasmine, Allen’s latest homage to the 1930s café society of New York and Hollywood is quite a charmer.

Woody Allen’s skilled cast

Once again Allen and casting directors Juliet Taylor and Patricia DiCerto put together a skilled cast.

Jesse Eisenberg stars as innocent Bobby, a Bronx kid, who declines going into his father’s jewelry business and instead heads to glamorous Hollywood of the 1930s. Bobby hopes to get a job with his Uncle Phil (Steve Carell), a high-powered movie agent.

Phil hires Bobby as the agency’s runner/personal assistant. Quickly, Bobby is both seduced and a bit repelled by the biz. But one thing he’s not repelled by is Uncle Phil’s assistant Vonnie (a breezy Kristen Stewart). Although Vonnie has a beau, the two become fast friends as Vonnie shows Bobby the ins and outs of Hollywood. When Vonnie’s relationship stalls, Bobby moves in, but ultimately it’s not meant to be.

Bobby returns to New York to start a second chapter that includes managing his gangster brother Ben’s (Corey Stoll) nightclub. Bobby shines in this role as he welcomes bi-coastal friends modeling agency owner Rad (Parker Posey) and husband/writer Steve (Paul Schneider) as well as a new Veronica (Blake Lively).

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Although not as bright and shiny as the days in Hollywood, New York’s nighttime scene has its share of excitement. Old friends and lovers appear and enemies disappear for Bobby and his family. Life moves forward in this café society era. 

Allen’s first time working with cinematographer Vittorio Storaro

Achieving a luminous look for the film, Allen teamed with three-time Academy Award winner Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now, Reds, The Last Emperor). The two artists created three different looks for the Bronx, Hollywood and the New York club life. In the film’s press notes, Storaro notes, “In the Bronx, it is a desaturated, almost winter-like evening light... In Hollywood there is a very strong primary color in a warm tonality, very sunny.” When Bobby returns to New York, Storaro adds, “…everything is much more colorful, particularly the scenes done in the nightclubs.”

Another creative aspect to watch for is how the camera moves during the narration (an uncredited Woody Allen serves as narrator).

Café Society employs mostly wide shots, which was appropriate for films of that era. However with the narrated scenes, Steadicam is employed. As Storaro explains, “The narrator doesn’t belong to any period, to any time, any geographic place… we felt that the narrator should have his own view. We decided that this would be a great moment to use the Steadicam…”

Allen envisioned Café Society almost like a novel

Café Society has the sweep of Hollywood, New York and the various characters who move in and out of Bobby’s life. Allen has said, “When I wrote the script, I structured it like a novel…. To me it was always a story not of one person but of everybody.” Although, Allen continues, “Bobby’s love story is the armature that the film is hung on.”

Cafe Society trailer (Rated PG-13; opens July 15)