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Movie Review: “Cafe Society”

Jul 282016
 By , July 28, 2016

cafe society

“Cafe Society” – a film review by Gary Chew

It’s not uncommon for Woody Allen to restate his lack of appreciation for Los Angeles and Vicinity. After all, the Wood Man is your basic dyed-in-the-wool New Yawker.  That we’ve known for decades.  However, Allen’s dissonance with La La Land is somewhat muted in his new one that you’ll come to know as Cafe Society. 

It’s the Thirties in America. Where else?  Woody “backs and forths” his story of young Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg), who’s tired of working in the small family business in The Apple.  Seems his mother (Jeannie Berlin) has a big time movie agent brother (Steve Carell) named Phil Stern.  As a Jewish mom is wont to do, she calls Phil in Los Angeles to lobby her successful brother for getting Bobby a job in the midst of that Tinsel Town glitter.  Bobby doesn’t glitter so much.  (He’s “Woody Allen,” of course.)

cafe society, blake lively Bobby get a low level gig with Phil’s office, but gets to rub shoulders with personages of great import in the biz of cinema in Lower California (not baja).  One less significant person named Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) is an assistant of Phil’s.  Bobby becomes a total boobie for Vonnie.  Mid-movie, we learn that Vonnie is actually Phil’s secret lover.  (Not such a unique twist of plot, especially for script by Woody Allen, I guess.)

Phil is beside himself about whether to divorce his wife and take up with Vonnie full time or not.  But after romancing ensues between Bobby and Vonnie, our young man heads back to New York to help his older brother Ben (Corey Stoll) expand a nightclub business.  Ben is not an honest man, by the way. In this role, Stoll brings on much of the film’s humor with his severe, “Soprano-ish” personality.

Bobby and Vonnie are now splits-ville with Bobby finding Veronica (Blake Lively) and the pair getting hitched..  Oh yes, to keep you up to date, Phil does leave his wife of many years and marries Vonnie.

And that’s pretty much it.

cafe societyI realize I given more than you really need to know about Cafe Society, but I don’t feel guilty since the narrative is predictable and quite hackneyed; plus, with Allen providing a flat reading of the film’s narration, I never got much of a kick … except for the snazzy visuals, super songs and perfect clothes and cars of that day.  Contemporary performances of great American Popular Songs are all there on the speakers as Allen requires, as well as the vintage recordings we expect to hear. Personally, I’ve always felt that Woody Allen has as good a taste for music and he does women.

I’m not a Jesse Eisenberg fan, sorry to say.  Even though he’s doing the Woody Allen character and has many of the same physical attributes as the Wood Man, Jesse doesn’t bring off the necessary ironic and humorous circumstance of a diminutive, atheistic intellectual who’s never won a beauty contest in his life while always effectively attracting such hot women.  Eisenberg didn’t make me laugh.  Allen did and does.  Alas, Allen’s reading on the soundtrack may well be due to the fact he’s no longer a spring chicken.  I know about that condition.

But that notwithstanding and as far as ingenue roles go, Kristen Stewart and Blake Lively, albeit a bit  more mature, surely are just what the doctor ordered … or more specifically, what Woody Allen would totally and absolutely cast in his latest motion picture.  The camera just loves both of these ladies.  Need I say more?

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Gary Chew was a classical music host, programmer and producer on Capital Public Radio’s KXPR 88.9FM, Sacramento for 18 years. He retired in January 2007. Read more about Gary's long and storied career here.

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