Starring-Jesse Eisenberg, Steve Carell
Scott’s Review #462
Reviewed August 11, 2016
Having received sub-par reviews, but nonetheless wanting to see this film for myself, as it is a Woody Allen film, and I have yet to see an Allen film I did not like, I traversed to my local theater to see this flick. I was not disappointed, though others clearly did not share my opinion.
To love Woody Allen films is to love quirky characters who are either neurotic, damaged, or more often than not, both. Also notable to Café Society is the stellar cast of who’s who- many in small cameo roles, but which is a another trademark of Woody Allen films. Marisa Tomei, Daniel Radcliffe, and Anna Camp (True Blood) have very small roles as do forgotten stars such as Sheryl Lee (Twin Peaks), and Tony Sirico (The Sopranos). Additionally, Woody Allen himself narrates the film- a highlight.
The main stars of Café Society, though, are Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, both perfectly cast. The setting (which I adored) is 1930’s Hollywood and the action traverses between California and New York City- another common bond of Allen films. Eisenberg plays Bobby Dorfman, a Jewish son of a working class jeweler, and has many siblings. Tired of New York, he flies to Los Angeles to obtain work with his hot shot Uncle Phil, played by Steve Carrell, who knows every celebrity under the sun. There, he meets Vonnie (Stewart) and they fall in love, Bobby unaware of her on and off love affair with Phil.
The set and costume designs are to die for and, being a fan of this glamorous time in history, is a wonderful treat from a visual perspective. Café Society is a prime example of a film that feels authentic and true to its time period rather than appearing staged with actors merely dressed in appropriate attire. This is tougher to achieve than one might imagine.
Despite opinions of the contrary, I enjoyed how most of the characters were wishy washy and unsure of their motivations or feelings toward other characters. Vonnie loves Phil, then she warms to Bobby, who has been in love with her since their first meeting as she innocently showed him around the palatial mansions of Hollywood. She is real to Bobby, but then makes a decision and becomes everything that she once despised about Hollywood- a shallow trophy wife.
Ironically, back in New York, Bobby then becomes involved with a stunning new woman with the same name as his ex. The importance of this coincidence is crucial to the film’s point. He transfers his feelings to another woman, but is he really happy?
It did not bother me, though perhaps it should have, that several characters were introduced for a scene or two and then mysteriously dropped. For instance, the novice hooker, Candy, having tried to make it as an actress and failed, has a heart of gold. But after her awkward attempt at a tryst with Bobby, the character is never seen again.
Another characteristic of the film that I enjoyed is the natural, overlapping dialogue between the characters. It makes them that much more genuine and harkens back to my fondness for Robert Altman films, who used a similar technique with his actors.
The point of Café Society is that nobody really ever gets what they want or, the film is making a point of, nobody ever really knows what they want. Containing elements common to other Woody Allen films, Café Society is intended for fans of his lengthy body of work.