Cafe Society was a New York city nightclub opened in the late 1930s in the midst of Greenwich Village. It featured mostly African American talent and was intentionally set up to challenge the ideals of the rich club goers of that era.
It was set up as a place for political events, fundraisers and considered to be a staple of liberal ideals. But what about the movie that took it’s name?
Cafe Society (2016)
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Blake Lively
released on blu-ray October 18, 2016
Rotten Tomatoes: 69%, Audience Score 62%
The Guardian: ***/*****
Ah Woody Allen. An American actor, comedian, film director, and sometimes theatre director. He’s eighty years old and has been making movies for fifty years. Just consider that for a second, fifty years worth of movies and forty-eight turns at directing. And I think I’ve seen somewhere between ten to fifteen of them all by myself.
Cafe Society is his most recent foray into the world of film and ironically or not, it’s a movie about the film industry.
Set in 1930’s Hollywood, we are quickly introduced to Phil Stern (Steve Carell) one of the most prominent agents in the business. At a party he takes a phone call from his sister Rose (Jeannie Berlin), who tells him that her son is moving to LA from New York and that he wants to find a job working with Phil.
Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) lives with his family in town, and is the youngest of his two siblings. His sister Evelyn (Sari Lennick) is a schoolteacher who is married to intellectual Leonard (Stephen Kunken), while brother Ben (Corey Stoll) is a renowned and murderous gangster. The family turns a huge blind eye to Ben’s criminal proclivities.
When Bobby initially arrives in town, he attempts to make an appointment on several occasions but is completely ignored by his uncle for several weeks before Phil finally decides to see him. When they do discuss the possibility of a job, it resolves with Phil deciding to get his nephew in with some pseudo-bullshit type arrangement. He then asks another secretary of his, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) to show Bobby around town.
Of course Bobby is instantly smitten with Vonnie, but when he asks her out, she tells him she is dating a journalist named Doug. We later learn that Doug is in fact a codename for Phil, and that Vonnie is having an affair with Phil behind his wife’s back. Phil claims to love Vonnie, but is unable to leave his wife, and breaks it off with her at the one year mark, just as Vonnie has given a letter from Rudolph Valentino to him. When Vonnie confides the breakup story to Bobby she leaves out no detail, with the exception of Phil’s false identity.
Bobby and Vonnie slowly begin a romance, and Bobby plans for them to leave to New York and get married.
At this point Phil decides to leave his wife and confides in Bobby that his mistress even gave him a letter from Rudolph Valentino. Once Bobby pieces it all together, he confronts Vonnie, and she decides to leave him and instead marry Phil.
Years later, Bobby is a successful nightclub owner, which is a front for his brother Ben’s criminal activities. Bobby meets and marries Veronica Hayes (Blake Lively). And things continue on positively, until one day Phil and Vonnie come to town.
But that’s all I’ll say about that.
Pros: Kristen Stewart delivers as Vonnie, the set pieces and cinematography are gorgeous, and though the story is somewhat stale and obvious, that’s not to say it isn’t entertaining.
Cons: At many points that film feels like an autobiography of Woody Allen as portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg. The self-indulgence is ever present and the drama can’t seem to find a way to properly raise the stakes
Runtime: 1 hour 36 minutes
Points of Interest: This is the first digitally captured Woody Allen movie ever. And it’s the first time Woody Allen has narrated a movie since 1987’s Radio Days.
It all feels all too familiar, Allen draws on his hometown experiences, referencing the perspective of a New Yorker, covering off the challenges of being Jewish, reflecting on the plight of the neurotic, and even addressing the facade that is Hollywood film culture. Cafe Society appealed to the artist in me, and I’ve said it before, but I’m a sucker for Woody Allen’s introspective nature. Is it for everyone? No. But it is entertaining enough for most.
Cafe Society the movie never quite reaches the same aspirations as the club on which it was based – it asks questions, and considers it’s timeframe, but it is a story driven by emotions and nostalgia for an aesthetic. It never reaches a place of self-awareness, effacement or even acknowledgement. But dammit if it isn’t full of beautiful people and places. This really is an excellent role for Kristen Stewart, and if you like Woody Allen, even when he’s lazy, you’ll drink from this cup.