Cafe Society

For the past few decades, or maybe always, Woody Allen movies have been a mixed bag. Such a mixed bag that one can’t be at all sure whether to see them or not. I swore I would never see another one after that hideous waste of time, materials and effort with Tracey Ullmann [forgot the name], but then he turns around and puts out something brilliant, like Sweet and Lowdown, which would have been a true timeless classic if he’d been able to restrain/eliminate some of his Woody Allenisms, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which is still one of the most moving and relevant films by any director for me.

The point is that one can’t really trust the reviews of his films anymore [except, of course, mine] because the films are so different, so regular as not to cause any excitement anymore, and by now so many critics have their thoughts on the man himself and his moral choices that it’s hard to get a sense of what the film in question is actually like. I actually skipped this one in theaters because the reviews said it was nothing special, when actually it is one of the better, more winsome and romantic ones. Luckily I got a chance to see it as the best of the choices on an airline flight [Bad Moms being nixed halfway through after proving to be a bit disappointing].

The main thrust of the story is that Bobby, played by Jesse Eisenberg, moves to LA, and is given a job by his uncle Phil, a Hollywood movie producer played by Steve Carell. Kristen Stewart as Vonny is tasked with showing him around, and soon they fall in love. But Vonny has a boyfriend, and soon enough we discover that that boyfriend is Phil.

We’re going to have to divulge some spoilers in order to really talk about the film, but if you don’t want any, know that it’s generally a good, bittersweet romance that gives you that “ah, life!” feeling, has good performances, is charming, and doesn’t waste your time. Also, I knew Kristen Stewart was generally pretty, but this is the first film in which she appears quite beautiful.

SPOILERS > > > So it seems like Bobby is going to win Vonny, when suddenly she announces that she’s going to marry Phil. You don’t blame her… he wants to move back to New York with no job and no prospects. He does, and ends up part owner of a successful nightclub [reminiscent of another winsome Allen classic, Radio Days]. He ends up marrying Veronica, played charmingly, if blandly, by Blake Lively. Then, one night, Phil and Vonny come in, and this is where the film, as my friend says, “has the same ending as La La Land” [it doesn’t, but the idea is the same, please don’t go ballistic, Mr. Fane]. Bobby starts seeing Vonny again, until she tells him that they shouldn’t; it brings up too many conflicted feelings, and they’ve both decided on the course of their lives. They love each other, it might have been wonderful, but it’s not the way it was, and that’s just how life is.

One thing you do get with a Woody Allen film is mature people expressing themselves eloquently. Rather than the familiar experience of feeling like these characters wouldn’t have any of these problems if they could just express themselves, Vonny tells Bonny clearly why she chose not to marry him, and that’s that. The movie is also well-written enough that we can tell Bobby is still in love with her [and Eisenberg delivers a completely competent romantic leading man performance, which was a nice surprise]. It’s also refreshingly mature to have a film in which they don’t chuck it all for a rush of emotion, but think, reflect, compromise, and ultimately do the mature thing. Which is ultimately why the film is bittersweet and moving.

Not the best Woody Allen film, but quite good, and worth seeing.

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2 thoughts on “Cafe Society

  1. Although I felt very differently about this movie than you (I found myself wondering why Allen had done this at all), I’m sort of relieved to see that you liked it, because it indicates that it just wasn’t up my alley rather than the case of a director I’ve admired so much losing his grip, as I feared. I do fully agree with your appraisal of Sweet and Lowdown, and there are so many transcendent others. Just, for me, not this one. I guess my favorite of his most recent work is Midnight in Paris.

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    • I loved Midnight in Paris, too. As I said, it’s really hard toknow which ones to see and which to skip. This is no masterpiece, but it’s wistful and sweet… there are others I can’t see why he did them at all, like some of the silly crime capers. And his whole MO of producing one per year, whether it’s any good or not… just too bad, but I guess he has his reasons.

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