For this review, I’m going to use the IO9 format for reviews, a Q&A Style.
So… how was it?
Oh you know, typical Woody Allen movie. Depressing, melancholy, but still engaging.
Wait, so did you like it?
That’s not helpful.
I know. I did enjoy watching it. I liked a lot of it. There are just a few things that didn’t click with me that make me hesitant on giving the film two thumbs up. Maybe just one thumb up.
First off, what is the film about? Then you can rant.
I’m not going to rant! Well, maybe. Anyway, the film is about Bobby, played by Jesse Eisenberg. He’s a young Jewish man in the 1930s moving to Hollywood. He doesn’t know what he wants to do, he just wants to get out of New York. He meets up with his Uncle Phil (Steve Carell) in Tinseltown, where Phil is a big shot producer. Phil gets him some work, and there Bobby meets Phil’s assistant Vonnie (Kristen Stewart.) He falls, and she likes him, but there’s one problem. Vonnie is having an affair with Phil, who is married.
Did you see this film with your parents?
Hahaha, nope. I saw it with a woman whose children I babysit for. My employer. The irony was rich.
I am so sorry.
Thanks interviewer-me. But shout out to the person I saw it with. You’re awesome, and I had a great time, especially discussing it with you afterwards.
So what did you like about the film?
I really liked the performances. Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg both shine as the leads. I happen to like both of them as people and particularly Eisenberg as an actor. Some people say Eisenberg has little range, which may be true, but not many actors can do what he does. In the right role, he’s great. They have undeniable chemistry, which makes Kristen’s scenes with Steve Carell feel really awkward. He seems a little miscast in my opinion, but then again, I had my face in my hands during a lot of their scenes together, so I might be misjudging him.
I also appreciated the little touches in the film. There is a morbidly funny subplot that is quirky and clever in its own right. The stylized touches adding to the setting of the 1930s are enchanting. The visual aesthetic of the film is breathtaking. And there are some nice lines.
You got me. I just can’t get behind the message of this movie. Now I can appreciate other people’s worldviews, and I definitely don’t believe in censoring or ignoring things I don’t agree with. I know Allen’s atheistic worldview from his movies: most things will eventually fail you; the world goes on. It’s depressing, but at least Allen is honest. One of the messages in this film is that people you love and know probably aren’t the people you think they are and/or will become what you dislike. Even though I don’t go to the movies to escape reality, I wish there had been some kind of positive alternative presented. The movie would have worked as a cautionary tale if there had been a standard to compare people’s downfalls to, but there wasn’t.
While I was watching Cafe Society and seeing this older man/boss court this young woman, I was struck with the thought that Allen may be trying to defend himself. There is talk about the feeling of love being the same as loving someone. Other characters validate the affair between Phil and Vonnie, and there is a somewhat happy ending for the couple in question.
Sophie Gilbert pointed out in Variety the connection to Allen’s personal life: “In 1996, at the age of 61, he (Woody Allen) successfully wooed the 29-year-old Julia Roberts in Everyone Says I Love You, the year after he had an affair with Mira Sorvino’s 20-something prostitute in Mighty Aphrodite. In 1979’s Manhattan, Allen’s 40-something character, Isaac, dates a 17-year-old schoolgirl played by Mariel Hemingway (the film is believed to be based on Allen’s real-life experiences dating 16-year-old Stacey Nelkin, whom he met on the set of Annie Hall and dated while she was attending Stuyvesant High School).”
With the whole Soon-Yi Previn situation and the allegations against Allen, it is hard not to consider that when watching one of his films. I’m not sure how to feel about a filmmaker who may be using his films to validate himself in some kind of self-insert (which is what Allen is actually famous for, but Cafe Society just seems to take it too far). An age difference is one thing, but when it veers into the territory of someone in a position of power with someone they could use their power against, it becomes tricky.
That’s great and all, but, um, do you want to, uh, stop talking about this? This is uncomfortable to talk about.
You’re probably right. I need to save the reputation of this site.
(awkward pause.) Anyway….
Right. So another thing. Cafe Society acts less like a movie with a message and more like a memory. For someone who doesn’t like nostalgia, Allen doesn’t seem to cut back on any gloss. The movie doesn’t gel because it doesn’t seem like something meant to mean anything to someone other than Allen. He even narrates the film while still having his character stand-in, just emphasizing the fact that this is his Hollywood story. That narration feels like one more boundary keeping the film from connecting with the audience.
Should people see it?
If you like Woody Allen, see it. If you like the golden age of Hollywood, see it. If you like these actors, see it. Just consider wisely whom you see it with.
Hey, I went this whole review without ranting!
Thanks. Now the next movie I’ll be reviewing is Mr. Church.