Café Society is a classic Woody Allen offering. Taking place in the 1930’s in Hollywood and in New York City, he used the old jazz tunes he loves so much as background to this story of love, betrayal, and hope. Woody himself narrates the film.
Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) travels to Hollywood, leaving his somewhat enmeshed family behind in New York, and visits his uncle Phil Stern (Steve Carell) in hopes of obtaining a job. He eventually becomes a sort of errand boy for his wealthy relative, and meets Vonnie (Kristin Stewart) who shows him around Hollywood. Bobby soon falls in love with her, but she is seeing a married man, and is not interested in him. Jesse Eisenberg plays a typical Woody male lead, talking and moving about rapidly, and the rest of the cast talks over each other in typical Allen film format.
The intrigue of romance and unrequited love commences, and the twists and turns we see happening are not yet evident to the players. My husband and I both noticed that the cinematography is sometimes tinted a yellowish hue, and I am suspecting that it has something to do with the relationship between Bobby and Vonnie. The cinematographer was Vittorio Storaro, who has won three Academy Awards for his craft, for Apocalypse Now, Reds and The Last Emperor. He did beautiful work in this film as well.
How many people fall in love and never get together for various reasons, and yet hold some tenderness in their hearts for one another? There is some philosophical discourse in this film, so typical for Woody, who constantly questions the meaning of life and death in his art.
I think that must have been where Woody was coming from in writing this screenplay. It also helps to illuminate people’s similar behavior currently, as a film in the 1930’s has enough distance from today to seem quaint and glamorous, and yet the emotions depicted between the family and lovers is just the same as any love triangle might experience today.
It also seems to be both a fond reminiscence of these two great cities in that era, when film was new and exciting, and stars held the commoners in awe of them, as well as a scathing look at the mob in New York and the vapid social climbing of those with wealth and notoriety.
Woody’s films always begin the same way with simple credits, actors listed alphabetically by main roles, and secondary roles. It is kind of comforting to see that each time, like he’s letting us into his innermost thoughts that get put down first as the screenplay and then becomes a fully developed movie, when something of Woody’s vision appears on the screen.
The film is rated PG-13 for some violence, a drug reference, suggestive material and smoking. Café Society was released in 2016. And there is a great deal of smoking. People just don’t smoke as much anymore, but it is culturally accurate for the times.