Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Review: "CAFÉ SOCIETY" Sounds More Scandalous Than It Actually Is

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 2 of 2024 (No. 1946) by Leroy Douresseaux

Café Society (2016)
Running time:  96 minutes (1 hour, 36 minutes)
MPAA –  PG-13 for some violence, a drug reference, suggestive material and smoking
PRODUCERS:  Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum, and Edward Walson
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Vittorio Storaro
EDITOR:  Alisa Lepselter

COMEDY/ROMANCE with elements of crime

Starring:  Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Blake Lively, Sheryl Lee, Jeannie Berlin, Ken Stott, Sari Lennick, Stephen Kunken, and Corey Stoll

Café Society is a 2016 period comedy and romance film written and directed by Woody Allen.  Set in the 1930s, the film follows a Bronx native who moves to Hollywood and falls in love with a young woman who is already in an affair with a mysterious married man.

Café Society introduces Robert Jacob “Bobby” Dorfman (Jessie Eisenberg).  He is the youngest child and younger son of Marty Dorfman (Ken Stott) and his wife, Rose Dorfman (Jeannie Berlin).  The Dorfman's middle child is their adult daughter, Evelyn (Sari Lennick), who is married to Leonard (Stephen Kunken), a teacher, an intellectual, and a communist.  Dorfman's oldest child is their elder son, Ben (Corey Stoll), a gangster.  While his siblings' lives are set, Bobby's is not.  He is discontented with working for his father, Marty, who is a jeweler, so Bobby decides to move to Hollywood.

There, his mother Karen's brother, Phil Stern (Steve Carell), is a powerful talent agent who works with the most famous stars, biggest filmmakers, and most powerful movie studios.  Phil is married to a beautiful woman, Karen (Sheryl Lee), and he lives in a lavish mansion in Hollywood.  And he might have a job for his wayward nephew, Bobby Dorfman.

Bobby ends up taking a job running menial errands for Phil, and that brings him into contact with on of Phil's employees, Veronica “Vonnie” Sybil (Kristen Stewart).  Bobby falls in love with Vonnie, but she claims that she already has a boyfriend, Doug, whom she describes as a journalist.  Ultimately, Bobby returns to New York City, where he runs a high-end nightclub that he names “Les Tropiques.”  It is there that Bobby embraces “café society,” as the club soon becomes a famous hangout for the rich and powerful.  Bobby, however, cannot escape his recent past, nor can he avoid Ben's gangster activities.

Coup de chance, the film Woody Allen says will likely be his final directorial effort, was released in France in September (2023).  Because of the controversies surrounding Allen the last few decades, especially the last five years, the film may not get a stateside theatrical release (although there has been a rumor that it has found a thus far secret U.S. distributor).  In anticipation of eventually somehow seeing Coup de chance, I have decided to watch the recent Woody Allen films that I missed, such as the 2015 film, Irrational Man, and Cafe Society.

Cafe Society is an amiable, lightweight Woody Allen period comedy.  It's nostalgic overtones certainly recall Allen's utterly delightful and semi-autobiographical period film, Radio Days (1987).  I adore Radio Days and am tempted to call it his masterpiece.  Unfortunately, Cafe Society is nowhere near the film that Radio Days is.

The first half of Cafe Society, which is mostly set in Hollywood, ends up being a prologue to the main story.  You see, dear readers, Cafe Society's real story takes place after Bobby Dorfman returns to New York City and becomes a player in cafe society, the party scene of the Big Apple's rich and famous – from the blue bloods and celebrities to politicians and gangsters.  In fact, the film is practically sleepy until Bobby becomes the impresario of NYC's most popular and notorious nightclub.  That is when the two strands of his past – his aborted relationship with Vonnie and the natural end of Ben's activities – meet.  Of course, it is a time when Bobby has the best of everything.

Cafe Society's themes of love-at-first-sight, love lost, and yearning for what might have been are familiar, and the film deals with it all so slightly that the story feels underdeveloped.  I can't help but believe Cafe Society would work better as a television series, which would allow it to fully develop its multiple subplots and to play out a cast that is filled with potential.  Ultimately, Café Society is an average put-together of familiar Woody Allen tropes, decorated with gorgeous production values.  The cinematography, costumes, and sets are all Oscar worthy.

5 of 10
★★½ out of 4 stars

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

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