Café Society is a film you might go and see one rainy afternoon. It is an afternoon kind of film because it isn’t really a film you purposely set out to see. For instance, you want to go to the cinema so you look at the listings and you catch sight of Woody Allen’s name. While you are compelled to attend due to your cultural dedication to such a filmmaker, you also secretly hope that it is better than Magic in the Moonlight (2014) and perhaps at best, nearly as good as Midnight in Paris (2011). To expect it to be a patch on Annie Hall (1977), or Manhattan (1979), is of course just unrealistic. Besides, when you are directing your forty-seventh film, you’re surely just doing it for fun?
In short, Café Society goes something like this: a young Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) moves to Hollywood in naïve hope of a career change after becoming discontented with working for his father, a jeweller. Bobby’s uncle Phil (Steve Carell), a major show-business mogul, reluctantly offers him a job running errands and minor tasks for him. Bobby is very quickly introduced to Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), Phil’s assistant, who soon shows him around town and reveals to him the more modest haunts of Hollywood. Immediately, Bobby is drawn to Vonnie’s down-to-earth nature and her lack of want for material wealth, despite her being surrounded by it. However, when Phil confides in his nephew about an affair he is having with another woman and his urge to leave his wife, Karen, Bobby’s trusting conscience and infatuation with Vonnie obscures from him the identity of Phil’s mystery woman…and so on, and so forth.
While I most certainly am a big Woody Allen fan, I didn’t really expect too much from Café Society, and I was right in doing so because it is in many ways, quite uneventful. It is predictable insofar that it has a carefully measured “Allen” concoction of clandestine affairs and romantic dilemmas, but strangely, I didn’t sit there predicting what would happen next. I wasn’t bored and I did find it funny. However, I wasn’t enraptured by the onscreen romances like I might be enraptured by Annie and Alvy in Annie Hall, mainly because the characters of Café Society were lacking in interest and quirks. These characters were absent of the qualities that could have made the plot and backdrop less cliché. Perhaps this was intended in order to manifest the superficiality of Hollywood life, or perhaps the main characters (or their actors) were simply lacking in charisma and identity.
Eisenberg’s performance is infectious, particularly in scenes where he is reminiscent of a young Woody Allen, but it soared and dipped and ultimately peaked early in the film. On the other hand, I found Kristen Stewart a peculiar choice for the character of Vonnie and could not help but imagine Emma Stone in her place. For me, Vonnie lacked the charm and personality that would explain Bobby’s infatuation. Maybe what is lacking overall in Café Society is a complexity in characters and relationships – all were transparent – even the characters who pose as symbols of goodness, such as Veronica (Blake Lively). I can’t imagine it was intentional that Woody Allen made his characters underwhelming and understated, but if so, it somewhat contradicts what the main characters of Bobby and (at first) Vonnie claim to represent – an indifference to the Hollywood elite.
Perhaps the defining quality of Café Society is its easiness – it has an easy plot and easy characters, and above all, it was very easy to watch. I hadn’t much to say about it afterwards, but nonetheless, I enjoyed watching it. I found the ending slightly abrupt, yet I wasn’t longing for an alternative. If I get too far into this I’ll start deliberating the purpose of film in general – must it always be thought-provoking? Not really – particularly when you’ve already made forty-six of them.
words FAITH CLARKE