Cafe Society Parent Review
Not even the amazing sets and beautiful cinematography were riveting enough to keep me distracted from the tedium of the dialogue.
Since 1967, Woody Allen has served up a movie nearly every single year. During that time, the prolific comedian/actor/writer/director/producer has fine-tuned the recipe for making small budget productions starring some of Hollywood’s biggest names. Although he can be accused of working out of the same old pantry, who can blame him for settling into a familiar flavor? And while he is definitely an acquired taste, his fans never seem to tire of his cuisine.
Café Society, the 2016 Annual Woody Allen Feature, is garnished with the fresh faces of Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg, which appears to be an attempt to prove that the 80-year-old director isn’t stale. More comfortable off-screen these days, Woody only plays the unseen narrator here. Yet his artistic influence is undeniable in almost every frame of the film. This is especially evident in Eisenberg’s portrayal of Bobby Dorfman, a neurotic twenty-something from the Bronx. As the actor spews verbiage, his performance flirts with out-rightly impersonating his mentor, only falling short of wearing Allen’s distinctive spectacles.
In this 1930s era romantic comedy/drama, Bobby has been sent by his poor Jewish parents (Ken Stott and Jeannie Berlin) to Los Angeles. Hoping he will find a job and make a better life for himself, his mother has given Bobby strict instructions to look up his Uncle Phil (Steve Carell), a big time talent agent with lots of connections. When the social-climbing Phil finally gives his nephew a moment in front of his mammoth desk, he quickly passes the boy onto his lovely secretary Vonnie (Stewart). Not surprisingly, a romance begins to kindle between the young couple—until the pretty office assistant confesses she is already in a relationship with a married man.
Because her rich and older lover is waffling over leaving his wife, Vonnie is just as uncertain if she should continue her illicit affair or take her chances with the uncertain up-and-comer. Disillusioned by her indecisiveness, Bobby eventually heads back to New York. There he exploits his California confidence, and over the next few years ends up co-owning a popular nightclub, marring a socialite (Blake Lively) and fathering a child—all the while, looking like he hasn’t aged a day. (I guess someone forgot to budget for make-up to do the aging process on young Eisenberg). Then, wouldn’t you know it, of all the gin joints in the Big Apple, Vonnie walks into Bobby’s. Once again his head is spinning. But for the audience, it is like watching a poor imitation of Casablanca.
No details are depicted of the many sexual relationships implied here (even when one character hires a prostitute), yet none of the main characters and few of the secondary ones are making positive moral and ethical decisions. Adultery and infidelity are as casual as washing your hair: lather, rinse, repeat. Meanwhile, another plotline involves a man (Corey Stoll) with mob connections. Consequently, there are many portrayals of criminal activities and various people being “dispatched.” One in particular shows a man being shot in the head on-screen (with blood effects). All of the violence is portrayed in an offhand and comical manner, including watching victims’ bodies being buried under a few yards of concrete. The script also features moderate and mild profanities, along with frequent tobacco and alcohol use.
Admittedly I have a love/hate relationship with this filmmaker. His quirky sense of humor and visual aesthetics are often appealing and have shone in some of his recent work. (Check Scoop, Midnight In Paris, Magic In The Moonlight, and Blue Jasmine.) Sadly, I cannot say the same for Café Society. Even the amazing sets and beautiful cinematography weren’t riveting enough to keep me distracted from the tedium of the dialogue. Nor did it stop me from noticing how hard (and unsuccessfully) the cast was laboring to play their roles. Despite Woody’s blend of the usual ingredients—an early 20th century period, Jewish characters, older men snaring younger women, and a lead that might be taken for a proxy of himself—this swanky entree fails to dish up anything truly satisfying.Directed by Woody Allen. Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell . Running time: 96 minutes. Updated September 13, 2016
Get details on profanity, sex and violence in Cafe Society here.
Cafe Society Parents Guide
By definition, café society means socialites who regularly patronize fashionable nightclubs, restaurants and resorts. What is the appeal of being seen in these sophisticated settings? Why might someone want to belong to this elite group? What kind of people are attracted to this lifestyle in this movie? Who might want to be part of that category today? Why are some “ordinary people” so interested in following the activities of the rich and famous?
When Bobby first meets Vonnie, she tells him she has been in Los Angeles long enough that she is no longer dazzled by the glitter of Tinsel Town, and despises name-dropping celebrity wannabes. Is her speech convincing? What things does she do that support or contradict her declaration of independence from the Hollywood dream? How is Bobby affected by the idea of rubbing shoulders with the stars?
Involvement in crime, adultery and substance use (alcohol, smoking and drugs) are treated in a casual way in this movie. How does that depiction help to make the story feel like a comedy? In reality, are these behaviors so trivial? What consequences and heartache are more realistically likely to follow those whose lives are touched by these activities?
At one point in the film, characters state that Jews don’t believe in an afterlife. To learn more about what the Jewish faith really teaches about life after death, check these websites: http://www.reformjudaism.org/judaism-what-believed-happen-someone-after-they-die http://www.jewfaq.org/olamhaba.htm