Café Society

 photo cafe_society_zpsegp6dclo.jpg photo starrating-3stars.jpgWoody Allen is an auteur. As any director that releases a movie every year (side note: are there any others?), he operates on 2 levels. There is his essential canon and then you have his dispensable curiosities. Blue Jasmine is the last movie I’d place in the former category. Sadly I’d have to say Cafe Society belongs more in the latter category. But I sound harsher than I mean to. Cafe Society is enjoyable in parts. It’s certainly a major step up from Magic in the Moonlight. However this slight tale of woe isn’t as vital as his best.

Cafe Society is a chronicle of missed connections and love lost. This period comedy set in the 1930s details the story of Bobby Dorfman, a nobody that comes to LA and begins doing menial errands for his uncle Phil (Steve Carell), a very powerful and influential talent agent. Phil has his secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) show Bobby around and get settled in Hollywood. Bobby becomes smitten by her down-to-earth personality and easy going temperament. However she is taken and unavailable to date.  Vonnie is already seeing “Doug”.  Notice I put “Doug” in quotes. That’s not actually her boyfriend’s name. Any guesses as to who the Doug really is in this romantic triangle?

Woody Allen movies are a casting agent’s dream. Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart gracefully inhabit their parts. Steve Carell on the other hand, is somewhat less captivating. Yes Phil is a rich powerful man in Hollywood but he still doesn’t seem to convey the charisma that would sweep a pretty young girl off her feet. There’s some nice supporting work here though. Parker Posey is modeling-agency owner Rad Taylor, a sparkling wit of the nightclub scene. The luminous setting in the 2nd half gives the film its title. Carey Stoll plays Bobby’s elder brother Ben as a gangster who resorts to murder to solve every problem. It’s a running joke. There’s also a gorgeous Blake Lively as Veronica Hayes. She is Bobby’s too-stunning-to-be-considered-merely-a-backup-choice girlfriend.

The script is a saga that weaves passion, desire, melancholy, and pathos. Jesse Eisenberg’s dramatic arc from a gabby naive Jewish boy into a worldly nightclub owner is rather improbable. Yet it happens so gradually it’s believable. His stuttering rhythms and affectations are pure Woody Allen in his prime and it’s easy to see the director playing this role in 1977. I can’t remember a time when Kristen Stewart was so fetching. Her makeup and wardrobe beautifully recall screen legends of yesteryear. As the object of Bobby’s affection, she exudes gum smacking sensibility with a brassy charm, but still enough sweetness to be alluring.

Cafe Society is a blast from the past. Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart have an established chemistry, this being their third collaboration after making both Adventureland (2009) and American Ultra (2015) together. Their synergy is the most exciting reason to see this picture.  There are a few missteps. The account doesn’t end as strongly as it begins. It just sort of fizzles out. Woody Allen also chooses to narrate the story himself. His gravely voice is so awkward when juxtaposed with the beauty of the age. But oh what a time! The cast is bathed in the retro glow of the 1930s. Legendary Italian cinematographer Vittorio Storaro soaks the film in rich hues. His photography celebrates the spirit of the era.  If you needed more, his work is validation enough to see Cafe Society.

07-27-16

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25 Responses to “Café Society”

  1. When you make as many movies as he does it’s understandable they fall all over the scale. Would have to go all the way back to Midnight in Paris since I liked an Allen but always interested in what he puts out. Great read.

    • He seems to make movies whether he has a complete story or not. I’ve noticed his less successful stories have these non-endings. Café Society has one.

  2. smilingldsgirl Says:

    Very interesting review. I may wait to see this on bluray because in a weird way I’m rooting for Kristen Stewart. I think she can be a good actress. I love Blue Jasmine and Midnight in Paris but you’re right most of Allen’s recent movies have been definite skips. I love when he gives me something to think about along with the nostalgia

    • Yes, I think Kristen Stewart has proven herself as an actress many times: Undertow (2004), Into the Wild (2007), Adventureland (2009), The Runaways (2010), Still Alice (2014) and most especially in Clouds of Sils Maria (2014).

      • smilingldsgirl Says:

        I loved her in Still Alice and forgot she was in Into the Wild. Good examples. I really want to see Clouds of Sils Maria

      • smilingldsgirl Says:

        We are on the same page on this one. Not one of his best but not a bad sit either. I personally liked it much better than Hail, Caesar! which I think was going for a similar vibe. Forgettable but I enjoyed it even with super annoying moviegoers by me.

      • Yes much better than Hail, Caesar!. Wasn’t a fan of that one.

  3. Yeah you were more upbeat than I was but we do end up landing on the same major points. I also love this: “he operates on 2 levels. There is his essential canon and then you have his dispensable curiosities.” Great way to put it and as we go forward it seems more and more like you can break that down between early- and latter-career. I wouldn’t at all call Cafe Society a bad movie but I will be probably forgetting it quickly. Liked Eisenberg and Stewart in it thought, they really do have a good rapport together

    • I assume you mean early career = essential canon & latter-career = dispensable curiosities. However Bullets Over Broadway, Match Point, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Midnight in Paris,and Blue Jasmine all came from the 2nd half of his career and I’d say at least his fans anyway would consider those essential.

      We agree Cafe Society is expendable though.

      • Yeah, exactly. Sorry that wasn’t very clear at first lol. I have to say I’ve come around on Blue Jasmine. I’d say there’s a stark difference between that and this and yes both are latter-career Allen. What I’d really like to know is how long he can keep up this film-a-year schedule. It’s insane.

      • I know! He missed 1981 but ever since A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy in 1982 he has averaged a movie a year. Occasionally 2 movies will get released in the same year. For example Cassandra’s Dream should count for 2007 but didn’t get released until January 2008. Vicky Cristina Barcelona was released August 2008.

  4. I expected better, but still liked it. I was so excited that Blake Lively was in this, but very disappointed she was only in it for a bit. “Sigh”. I too saw Jesse as Woody. 3 stars

  5. Great review Mark. Unfortunately this film hasn’t appeared in the Savannah/Pooler Georgia area yet. I probably would have seen it already if I was still in Sarasota, FL.

    I’m not at all a fan of Eisenberg – but as you mentioned, Stewart was terrific in Clouds of Sil Maria – and that is the one film with Stewart that I’ve seen.

    My take on Woody recently is that he’s more interested in recreating the times and places that drew him to films. He seems to do better with the nostalgia aspects than the story aspects.

    I look forward to seeing this one.

    On another note, you commented that you hadn’t but likely would invest some time in HBO’s The Night Of. Has that happened yet?

  6. Great review! I really want to see this one before it leaves theaters…I’m fascinated with this time period 🙂

  7. With respect, can Woody Allen really be considered an auteur? There’s the problem of an auteur meaning that the director played all of the principle roles in the filmmaking process (directing, cinematography, producing, writing, and a host of other technical positions). And even if he did a lot of those things on his own there’s still the question as to whether or not calling a director an auteur is necessarily a good thing. I think a lot of people have glorified the ideas pioneered by Truffaut and various others, but I find screenwriter William Goldman’s argument against the validity and possible perceived benefits of calling somebody an auteur to be quite compelling.

    His argument can be found in the beginning chapters, somewhere, in his book, Adventures in the Screen Trade. I’m pretty sure he dedicates a section or chapter to it, so it’s not hard to find. In fact, if you don’t feel like paying for it, that’s fine. On Amazon, you can get a sample kindle version. And even if you don’t have an actual kindle, that’s fine. You can use their web app or you can use the mobile app.

    A very basic way to put it is this: The identification of a single person as an analogous author of a movie ignores all of the dozens (or even hundreds) of technicians needed to produce a major motion picture, without which the direction, editing, audio design, orchestration, cinematography

    • An interesting point. I never thought the word “auteur” negated all the creative work of everyone else involved in a movie. Goldman specifically thought that screenwriters were often under-appreciated. Yet in Woody Allen’s case, he IS the screenwriter. In fact, Allen has never directed a film he did not also write, so it makes the label “auteur” even more compelling in Woody’s case. Regardless, I simply use the word to describe a film that “reflects the director’s personal creative vision.” I think we’re both in agreement that Woody’s films do that at the very least.

  8. Oh, oh, *raises hand*. “Doug” is actually Phil! I’ve heard that Carell is definitely miscast in this role, in that he doesn’t seem like he could believably sweep a young girl off her feet. I love your description of Blake Lively as Bobby’s “too-stunning-to-be-considered-merely-a-backup-choice girlfriend.” Haha. I’ve heard that the chemistry between the leads and the cinematography are the main reasons to see this picture. Nice to see that your review echoes that sentiment.

  9. Very nice review, totally agree. After watching Cafe Society I have to say that Woody Allen is back. After a few flops (Irrational Man, Magic in the Moonlight or To Rome With Love, just to mention a few examples), Woody Allen comes back in full form with a charming romantic drama/comedy, as he has accustomed us to. I think the success of the movie rests in that Woody Allen returned to do something more like Midnight in Paris than in the above mentioned flops. The movie is set between the West (Los Angeles) and East (New York) coast in the 1930s. So, what in Midnight in Paris was the European cultural elite of the 20s, in Cafe Society has been replaced by Hollywood in the 30s. The movie in essence has the typical features of a Woody Allen movie: a neurotic lead who is an alter ego of the real Woody Allen, complicated love relationships, existential debates, jazz music and even some cultural snobbism. In this movie, all this elements fit very nicely to create a pleasant film that is very nice to watch.

    I invite you to see my full review on Cafe Society at https://mrcharlesblog.wordpress.com/2016/09/03/cafe-society/

    • I like your observations. I will say, at this point, Woody Allen has never really left so I hesitate to say he is “back”. He just has a long career of ups and downs. However I agree that this is better than some of his most recent output.

      • Thanks for the reply. Okay, I agree with you. Woody Allen has a brilliant career and has, and will be, in the spotlight for years. I just wanted to mention that, after his most recent flops, he finally delivered us a really nice movie as he is accustomed to.

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