Woody Allen has always been left-field of Hollywood. Unlike fellow directors, he has used New York as a never-ending backdrop for the shifting minutiae of daily life that imbues the narrative of his films – all whilst taking advantage of acerbic, self-deprecating comedy.
Yet with Café Society, Woody Allen has shifted his focus on Hollywood in the 30s, as perhaps a historical reflection of an era where affluence and abjection were sharply delineated – as they are now.
Narrated by Woody Allen, Café Society follows young Bobby Dorfman (The Social Network’s Jesse Eisenberg), who flees his mundane job in New York as a jeweller working for his father and moves to Hollywood. He gets a job with his uncle, talent agent Phil (Steve Carell) where he runs errands. He is soon introduced to Phil’s secretary, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), and quickly becomes smitten by Vonnie’s humorous, down-to-earth demeanour and falls deeply in love with her. However, Vonnie is secretly having an affair with Phil. On Phil and Vonnie’s one-year anniversary, he gives a Vonnie a letter signed by Rudolph Valentino, but ends the affair, which drives Vonnie into Bobby’s arms.
A stricken Phil confides in Bobby about his affair whilst keeping Vonnie’s identity a secret, though Bobby eventually discovers Vonnie is his uncle’s mistress as Phil vows to divorce his wife for her. Bobby plans to marry Vonnie and return to New York, but after he confronts Vonnie and issues an ultimatum, him or Phil, she chooses Phil and a heartbroken Bobby heads back to New York, alone.
Woody Allen has shifted his focus on Hollywood in the 30s, as perhaps a historical reflection of an era where affluence and abjection were sharply delineated – as they are now.
Back in the Big Apple, Bobby runs a nightclub with his gangster brother Ben. The club becomes a renowned hot spot for the elite and eventually Bobby marries Veronica Hayes (Blake Lively) whom he met at the club. Eventually he runs into Phil and Vonnie again at the club and the romantic feelings between her and Bobby flare up once more. Bobby’s criminal brother is convicted for murder and is sentenced to execution, which only serves to make his and Bobby’s club infamous and a more sought-after nightspot. Bobby returns to LA once more, entertaining the idea of opening a Hollywood version of his club, but reneges. He runs into Vonnie again and whilst at lunch, she mentions she and Phil are going to New York for a short visit, but insists she and Bobby keep apart.
New Year’s Eve rolls around. Bobby and Vonnie are separated, yet united in their dissatisfaction with their spouses. The narrating Allen makes Eisenberg and Carell his conduits, using their characters torepresent his misfit personality in the flawless backdrop of LA; his out-of-place, seemingly out-of-depth comedic style sticks out like a sore thumb against the beautiful, clean lines of Hollywood. New York by comparison is often portrayed as dingy in the movie. The juxtaposition between mundane working life and Hollywood glamour is a division that is still pertinent today, where the Kardashians are the ringleaders of the zeitgeist. Kristen Stewart’s natural performance was the single bastion of normality in the sea of stardom and glitz.
There is all the pith expected from a Woody Allen movie, featuring many anti-Semitic gags (often the best lines are handed to Eisenberg). The manner of self-deprecation we have from Jewish filmmakers like Allen and Mel Brooks draws parallels between the paranoia and religious bigotry seen both then and now.
The film turned romantic comedy up on its head and is peppered with meaningful observations and a quirkiness that audiences love about Allen films… While “Café Society” is not quite what Allen fans are used to from him, the film is elegant, beautifully shot and features some truly captivating performances.
Article by Brad Yellop