In the nineteen-thirties, Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) had tried working for his father's business and found it soul-destroying, so his mother arranged for him to leave New York City and head off for Los Angeles, Hollywood to be precise, where his uncle Phil Stern (Steve Carell) had a position as a mogul there, arranging roles for the biggest stars and frequently hobnobbing with them and some of the most powerful people in the city. Bobby wasn't entirely sure he wanted to work for him, but anything was better than what he had previously been doing, though when he showed up at Phil's office he found him unexpectedly difficult to get hold of, as his secretary would tell him to wait for hours or inform him the arrangements to meet had been cancelled. Was this worth it?
Something, or to be more exact, someone will make it worthwhile, in one of Woody Allen's most expensive films, a work that was not full of special effects or salary-consuming stars, but you could see where the money went nonetheless as its capture of the period look of New York and Hollywood in the thirties were highly refined, Vittorio Storaro's cinematography lending a sheen to the image that rendered it more convincing than other attempts at looking back that far into the twentieth century. Careful production design helped, and while there were no show-off setpieces placing the characters in elaborate recreations of the era - the budget wasn't that high, considering - a mood redolent of a time that Allen could just about recall was vivid.
No matter that setting, it was tempting to see the director's old preoccupations making themselves plain once again, especially his pairing of an older male star with a younger female star and concocting a romance for them. However, while he had been providing variations on that since his Manhattan days, here that relationship was patently not right for the couple, and the story put this at the heart of the drama which could have been deceptively nostalgic for, the historical milieu encouraging those feelings of reminiscence for things past. Yet this was no rosy, remember the good old days wallow, as the players were just as likely to be recalling the couple of years this took place over with bitter regret.
Eisenberg was the leading man, Allenesque in a manner that a lot of the filmmaker's lead actors would be, though Allen himself took care of the narration duties: we were not sure if this was intended to be Bobby looking back or a more omniscient commentator on the narrative (indeed, this would have been just as effective without the narration). However, the star did not allow his personal interpretation to be swamped by his director's stylings, and he handled the dramatic side with a depth that Allen would not often give to the roles he played in his own movies, though a more sceptical observer may have noted there was a fairly simple development in Bobby's personality to follow, therefore did not take a huge amount of imagination to deliver well. Yet it was to Eisenberg's credit he rendered this more natural as a progression than an abrupt switch halfway through.
The object of his affection was Vonnie, Phil's assistant who he gets to guide Bobby around Hollywood as he runs various menial errands for the sake of giving him something, anything, to do. She was played by Kristen Stewart as standing out from the usual types you would find aspiring to success in the showbiz landscape since she has seen what it has to offer and is less than impressed now; Bobby takes that to mean she doesn't need all the glitz and glam and a more simple existence would be preferred, which appeals to him immensely, and almost immediately he is in love. But is she in love with him? She is in a relationship with somebody Bobby knows very well, and this is where the crux of the problem lay as we could tell Vonnie would have been very happy with Bobby rather than this older man, and the point that assessing your life from the vantage point of age and experience may have had all the warm memories returning, but frankly it was all those regrets that loomed large to, overwhelmingly so. An old man's movie, from that perspective, but Allen was in his eighties when he made this, so you would not have expected anything less. It was simply a little basic for its arrangement, and the frippery tended to dominate until the cold realisation come the end.
American writer/director/actor and one of the most distinctive talents in American film-making over the last three decades. Allen's successful early career as a stand-up comedian led him to start his directing life with a series of madcap, scattershot comedies that included Bananas, Sleeper and Love and Death. 1975's Oscar-winning Annie Hall was his first attempt to weave drama and comedy together, while 1979's Manhattan is considered by many critics to be Allen's masterpiece.
The 90s saw Allen keep up his one-film-a-year work-rate, the most notable being the fraught Husbands and Wives, gangster period piece Bullets Over Broadway, the savagely funny Deconstructing Harry and the under-rated Sweet and Lowdown. After a run of slight, average comedies, Allen returned to more ambitious territory with the split-story Melinda and Melinda, the dark London-set drama Match Point, romantic drama Vicky Cristina Barcelona, one of many of his films which won acting Oscars, and the unexpected late-on hits Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine. In any case, he remains an intelligent, always entertaining film-maker with an amazing back catalogue.