Cafe Society lavishly bland

There are a few reasons to take the time to see Woody Allen’s latest offering Café Society.

  • You are obsessed with the glamour of 1930s Los Angeles and New York
  • You are a Woody Allen fan or
  • You like movies about despicable people making bad choices.

The movie opens with a lavish Hollywood party where we are introduced to Phil Stern (Steve Carell) as he works his way through the crowd of executives, gold diggers, stars and starlets.

Phil is an important man with a beautiful wife in the prime of his life and his career. He oozes power, vitality, impatience and confidence.

Enter young Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg), Phil’s nephew, who is fed up with working in his father’s small jewelry shop in New York and arrives in Los Angeles in the hopes of working for his uncle.

Three weeks of waiting for an appointment with his famous uncle and the young Bobby is running out of money and time. He needs a job and is willing to do anything at Phil’s agency to build a life for himself in Los Angeles.

There is no question that Woody Allen has built his career on exploring the angst of the awkward Jewish male and this movie is no exception.

Jessie Eisenberg thoroughly channels a young Allen. There is a scene with a young prostitute where you could close your eyes and open them to find Annie Hall standing in the room.

Phil gives Bobby a job running errands for him and gives his personal assistant, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), the job of taking Bobby around Los Angeles and helping him get orientated. Bobby becomes instantly smitten with Vonnie and dreams of making her his girlfriend despite her insistence that she has a boyfriend who travels.

There’s something different about Vonnie – she came to Los Angeles to become an actress, but she’s an English major who just couldn’t accept the phoniness of Hollywood.

The next 15 minutes are a series of vignettes following Bobby and Vonnie as they go on a series of dates and he becomes further enamoured.

Meanwhile, back in New York City, we are introduced to Bobby’s family: brother Ben (Corey Stoll), who building a crime record as a racketeer and thug, his sister who is married with kids to an intellectual, and his parents, who despise each other.

Everything is going swimmingly until we discover that Vonnie has been having an affair with Phil for the last year. He has promised to leave his wife, but continues to waffle and they break up.

Bobby is doing well in Los Angeles, but has grown tired of the place and realizes he’s much more of a New Yorker at heart. He proposes to Vonnie and asks her to join him to build a life in New York.

Rich and powerful Phil confides in Bobby that he loves his wife, but can’t live without his mistress.

Eventually, Bobby discovers it is his true love who is Phil’s love interest and confronts her. She chooses to marry Phil and Bobby leaves, heartbroken for New York.

His brother has taken the spoils of his life of crime and has bought a club (convincing the former owner to sell by burying him in concrete… one of a long string of such conversations that end in someone’s entombment).

He hires Bobby to run the club and voila, Bobby now has a new career in New York.

Time passes and he meets and marries the beautiful Veronica (Blake Lively). The irony that she shares the name of his former love is not lost on Bobby. Veronica has a child and life is bliss — until Vonnie and Phil appear at Bobby’s successful New York club.

Vonnie is dressed to the nines, name dropping and gushing about famous places they’ve been. She has become everything she said she hated. Bobby leaves in disgust, but Vonnie seeks him out and asks him to have lunch with her to “turn back the clock and take a walk.”

Phil is busy with meetings and over the course of her two-week visit, she and Bobby fall in love again. They know they can’t leave their partners, but the pull is still there.

The movie ends with a New Year’s Eve party. Bobby and Vonnie are celebrating in two different places with their unwitting partners, but they are unhappy, wondering what could have been.

There is gorgeous, lush cinematography in this film by Vittorio Storraro (The Last Emperor), beautiful lighting and fabulous costumes that perfectly capture the essence of the 1930s. Finally, all of those politically incorrect fur coats have found their purpose.

Unfortunately, there is just not a compelling story nor are there characters we can love.

Everyone in this film is despicable in some way with the exception of Veronica and the first Mrs. Stern, the naive victims of their partner’s deceptions.

Woody Allen is the narrator of the film. Given his personal life and string of philandering, one has to wonder if this film was made in an attempt to explain the internal struggle a man has when he chooses to cheat.

Kristen Stewart as the siren Vonnie is typically shy and inscrutable in this film, making her attraction to the men perplexing. She has no chemistry with either Phil or Bobby, which makes the film fall flat.

One can’t help but wonder if a more interesting actress might have been a better choice in the role, but perhaps it is Stewart’s blandness that was her appeal. She is not threatening to women and is accessible to men.

Blandness seems to be a theme in this movie despite its lavish and opulent settings. Perhaps Allen is making a statement about the society he’s been a part of for over 60 years, but it’s a statement that is forgettable.

I give this film 3 out of 5 hearts.


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About the Author

Kim Foreman-Rhindress is a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City and London Western Conservatory of music for piano and voice. 

Kim has been performing in theatre and film for over 30 years in Canada, NYC, Palm Beach, Los Angeles, and the Netherlands. She has written several plays which have been produced in Canada and the U.S., and is the founder of Kelowna Voice Lab - helping people find their voice, be it singing or acting. 

A working musician, she performs regularly in Kelowna with her husband, Jim Rhindress, in an acoustic duo Smitten, and with her vintage trio Kitsch 'n Sync.  

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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