Café Society – Review

Woody Allen stunned the Cannes Film Festival with his Café Society, drenched with the director’s trademark: his inspirational satire on mankind and life in general.

The movie follows Bronx-born Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) to Hollywood during the 1930s. The young man is trying to pursue a career in showbiz by working for his uncle, the influential entertainment agent Phil Stern (Steve Carell). During his stay in the City of Angels he will fall in love with Stern’s secretary, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart). The romance will lead to a painful love triangle, that will break Bobby’s heart and trigger him to move back to New York. In the Big Apple, he will attract the City’s cream of the crop at the nightclub that gives the title to the film —Café Society — partnering with his shady brother Ben (Corey Stoll). As Bobby is swept up in the vibrant world of high society life, he will get married with the ravishing and sweet Veronica (Blake Lively). However his one true love, Vonnie, will never be forgotten.


Allen’s first collaboration with DP Vittorio Storaro is remarkable. The cinematography creates stupendous contrasts betwixt the sepia-toned Bronx and the honey nuanced Hollywood. Production design by Santo Loquasto has the same flavor of Blue Jasmine as regards enhancing class conflict. Whereas Allen’s long-time casting director Juliet Taylor picks an eclectic cast, to embody the characters that tribute the mythology of the era. Thus, nostalgia for a distant decade is evoked, in the same manner that Midnight in Paris wallowed in the glorification of unlived reminiscences. The film undoubtedly is a glittering tribute to the movie stars, socialites, playboys, debutantes, politicians, and gangsters who marked the excitement of the age.

The glamour of the 1930s is first introduced through Hollywood’s lavish parties with Steadicam shots, that regrettably resemble a glitzy television series, rather than those long shots that made us fall in love with the synæsthesia of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and Manhattan’s black and white skyline. Audiences can perceive this is the first time New York director has shot a theatrical movie outside his traditional comfort zone, switching from film to digital cameras. Moreover, the plot tosses too many elements in the cauldron: the gangster milieu, the cliché Los Angeles producer who as an affair with his secretary, Hollywood’s razzle dazzle vs. New York’s artistic scene and the star-crossed lovers’ affair.


Despite the excess of mishmash story elements and the — at times — irritating voice-off narration, Café Society conveys the complexity of life and the way its most important issues get swept away by the flow of events. Just as effective are Allen’s witty aphorisms he places in his characters’ mouths, as he ponders about the meaningless of life, and ironically plays with Judaic stereotypes through the conversations of Bobby’s colorful Bronx family.

The stream of consciousness that intertwines Bobby’s rags-to-riches story, with his love life echoes Alfred Hitchcock’s concept of cinema: Drama is life with the dull bits cut out. Indeed, Café Society fast forwards through Bobby’s existence reiterating the significance of one woman in his life: Vonnie.

If John Lennon once said that life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans, when it comes to matters of the heart, it’s all about timing…and missing that timing. The open-ended story epitomizes this phenomenon. The bitter sweet romance attests that at times the greatest love stories don’t necessarily have a happy ending. Or they don’t have an actual closure at all. Life at times leaves relationships pending in oblivion, due to the impossibility of living them, as much as breaking them off. Dreams become the only place where certain love affairs can find fulfillment and Woody Allen poetically depicts this in Café Society.