I’m not a big Woody Allen fan and his personal life is certainly a big reason why. I saw this movie for my film club and it was pretty good. Having not seen many of his films, I am no expert on the themes or techniques he typically uses and how they compare with this movie. For example, I can’t really comment on the blue vs. amber cinematography that is apparently utilized in his films or the impact of his new cinematographer (it is unusual for Allen to change his personnel) but I did find some of the scenes breathtaking in both the California and the NY sequences be them “blue” or “amber” – however they came about.
Café Society is the story of Bobby Dorfman, a young man from the Bronx, who travels to California in the 1930s to find a better life. He goes to work for his uncle Phil played by Steve Carrell, a big Hollywood agent who is cheating on his wife with Kristin Stewart. That in and of itself is a bit creepy given the age difference (there was also a really off color joke around Errol Flynn’s interest in underage girls to provide further “ick”). Unfortunately, there isn’t really any chemistry between the two so it isn’t ever clear why Stewart’s character is so enamored with him. Perhaps the actors also felt the “ick” factor.
Of course Bobby falls in love with Stewart and we have the proverbial triangle. Eisenberg and Stewart have worked in several films together and are at ease with each other on screen. Stewart’s facial expressions, speech pauses and other mannerisms that she brings to all her roles are not as pronounced as in the other 6 or 7 films I have seen from her. This probably has to do with the fact that her character actually smiles and is happier than in her usual angst filled roles. She does a good job and is believable as Vonnie but her motivations are really never explored. Eisenberg is also fine although after he returns to NY and ages, it is mostly the clothes rather than his persona that changes. Neither character was particularly well developed but the actors did the best with what they were given.
Café Society has many humorous moments and the crowd I was with laughed out loud several times. Bobby’s Jewish family finds humor in Jewish stereotypes and Allen clearly enjoys poking fun at the Jewish experience. Jeannie Berlin as Bobby’s mother is excellent and really funny. Jewish insecurity is a primary theme in this movie and you see it in all the characters in the Doorman family as they use humor and other techniques to camouflage it.
In the end, this film is a nice little period piece that won’t stretch your imagination or intellect. Allen could have taken the movie to other more interesting places but I wonder if the 80 year old Director has run out of gas. The movie has its strengths and plenty of weaknesses but 96 minutes in an air conditioned theater watching this film isn’t the worst way to escape the summer heat.