Woody Allen is one of my favourite filmmakers but despite my love and affection for the 80-year-old director I will admit he has produced some very mediocre films over the years and I think Café Society should be included in this bracket.
Café Society is Woody’s 46th directorial feature and it shows, the film feels tired and lifeless as if Allen is going through the motions. The writing is sloppy and uninspired and the acting is not much better either which is a shame considering the impressive cast, know that I’ve ripped this film to pieces I should probably talk about the plot and characters.
Jesse Eisenberg stars as Bobby Dorfman, Bobby is a young man in his early 20’s with high ambitions for himself, he lives in a small apartment in New York with his parents Marty (Ken Stott) and Rose (Jeannie Berlin) and his brother Ben (Corey Stoll) and he works as a jeweller for his father. Bobby desperately wants to escape from this boring and mundane life and he believes moving out to Los Angeles will be the perfect solution.
Bobby’s uncle Phil Stern (Steve Carell) is his ticket into Hollywood, Phil is a bigtime movie producer who knows all the major stars – Doris Day, Humphrey Bogart, Rock Hudson you name it. The first time we see Phil he is dancing the night away at a classy party, he unexpectedly receives a call from Rose who informs Phil that Bobby is looking for a employment in LA and that Phil should give him a chance.
Phil clearly doesn’t want to speak to his sister and is desperate to get off the phone so he reluctantly promises to help Bobby out. Next we see Bobby arrive in Hollywood and his first stop is too see his uncle.
I am not a fan of Jesse Eisenberg’s performance in this film, I just don’t think he plays the part particularly well. Eisenberg has proven himself to a good actor in films such as the Social Network and even Zombieland where he plays a similar type of character but in this film he just isn’t good.
His line delivery for one is flat and his timing feels off, whenever Eisenberg is delivering a comedic line or attempting to be romantic he looks awkward and robotic. He gives off the impression of not being entirely comfortable in the role and to be honest this isn’t vintage Woody Allen writing, Eisenberg looks like a little kid in fancy dress.
There is one scene in particular involving Bobby and a prostitute which was really unfunny and unfortunately most of the film’s humour followed this trend, the writing does have its moments but these are rare.
“Unrequited love kills more people every year than tuberculosis”
Phil is not particularly ecstatic about meeting his nephew and he always seems to be busy whenever Bobby calls, through sheer persistence Bobby eventually gets a meeting with his uncle who offers him a job as an errand boy. During the meeting Bobby is introduced to Phil’s secretary Veronica (Kristen Stewart), Phil asks Veronica to show his nephew around the town and of course Bobby accepts his offer and the job as well.
Veronica is young and beautiful and she seems to have chemistry with Bobby, they walk and talk around the city for a while and seem to connect on their shared opinion of Hollywood. Veronica despises how fake and plastic the whole city is and Bobby shares the same thought, she moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting and once that didn’t work out she began working for Phil.
Bobby seems to be in awe of Veronica, he tries to kiss her whilst the two are drinking together at a bar, she backs off and tells Bobby she has a boyfriend who happens to away travelling, Bobby is a little disappointed but they still remain friends.
Woody Allen will occasionally chime in with some narration to flesh out some of the side characters or maybe touch on a plot detail that hasn’t been mentioned yet. It might seem like a nitpick but I found this to be really distracting and it was jarring every time it appeared in the film, Allen sounds like he recorded his lines while he was in bed because his voice sounds croaky and tired.
The film will also occasionally cut back to New York where we see what the rest of the Dorfman family are up to. Ben is clearly involved in a lot of shady business and he has links to a local mafia, on multiple occasions we see Ben and his goons beating up and dumping unknown bodies into a ditch outside of the city. Later on we see that Ben’s criminal life and taste for murder is finally catching up to him and he ends up in a lot of trouble.
This part of Café Society is one of its funnier moments but it comes a little to late to save the film.
To be honest the film feels a bit rushed especially when I think about the story, for example we learn that Bobby is doing well for himself working for his uncle and has earned a promotion but the problem is we never see any of it. Café Society never feels like it earns anything the film just skips past the scenes that might be boring and just pushes through to the supposed good stuff.
This problem also occurs when Bobby and Veronica inevitably fall in love, it happens not because they are a perfect each other but because the screenplay requires it to happen to keep the film going, their relationship is not given enough time to develop or progress instead they are just in love and that is that.
The reason why Veronica suddenly decides that Bobby is the man of her dreams is because her ‘ boyfriend’ recently ended their relationship. We learn that Veronica’s secret lover is Phil who ended the affair because of his unwillingness to divorce his wife.
Next we see Bobby and Veronica madly in love, they kiss and take long romantic walks across the beach, the couple have plans to move to New York and settle down with children of their own. Phil later regrets his decision to leave Veronica and he ironically confides in Bobby about his situation. Phil mentions that he wants to leave his wife to pursue a relationship with Veronica, Bobby has no idea about the affair so he unknowingly encourages Phil to follow his heart.
The next day Phil approaches Veronica and he pours his heart out to her, she is torn not knowing whether to stick with Bobby or go back to Phil, eventually Bobby finds out about the affair so Veronica is forced to choose. The film acts as if the audience is totally invested in her decision but personally I couldn’t care a less.
A lot of people really seem to like Kristen Stewart in this film but I found Veronica to be very unlikeable. She plays with Bobby’s emotions like a puppet and then we expected to feel sympathy for her? One moment she is kissing the lips of Phil next we see her all over Bobby, then suddenly she decides that Phil is the man of her dreams once again, I got fed up of her after a while.
To give the film some credit it is beautifully shot by Vittorio Storaro utilizing a lot of wide shots to show off the beauty of Hollywood, Café Society is bursting with plenty of colour and it is an absolute joy to look at. Visually the film looks a little too clean and precise but I think this works nicely with the setting, this also contrasts nicely with the more colourless and moody look of New York. The costume design is also top notch and it fits perfectly into the old fashioned time period.
After Veronica abandons Bobby she disappears from the film and we learn that she has married Phil, Bobby decides to return to New York where his brother is planning to open a social club named ‘Café Society’.
Despite being clear bitter about the situation with Veronica things are starting to look good for Bobby, the club proves to be a massive success and he ends up becoming its owner, he meets his future wife Veronica (Blake Lively, he really likes the name Veronica apparently) and they go on to have children together. Everything seems to be going perfectly until the other Veronica decides to make an appearance.
She unexpectedly pops into the club with Phil and a couple of friends, Bobby is clearly uncomfortable about seeing them again but this encounter sparks up a wide range of emotions for him including some romantic feelings he didn’t he know still had for Veronica (the other one).
Café Society has moments where it works really well and it feels like Woody Allen still has some real energy and passion for his art. But perhaps age is finally catching up to him, this film feels like a mediocre retread of some of Woody Allen’s best work.
As I have said Woody Allen is a director that I admire greatly and to still be making film’s well into his eighties is really impressive, Roger Ebert once described him as a treasure of the cinema who is taken for granted. I would agree but I don’t think Café Society will be treasured, if you are a fan of Allen you have probably seen the film already but to anyone else I wouldn’t recommend Café Society.
It’s not awful but Woody Allen has proven on countless occasions in the past that he can do so much better.