Cafe Society Review

Cafe Society is a wonderful, refreshing original from classic writer / director
Woody Allen. If you don't know anything about Woody Allen, you'll probably watch this movie and scratch your head with confusion. However, if you're familiar with his movies, you will love it.

The official description of Cafe Society from Perdido Pictures is:

Set in the 1930s, Woody Allen's bittersweet romance CAFÉ SOCIETY follows Bronx-born Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) to Hollywood, where he falls in love, and back to New York, where he is swept up in the vibrant world of high society nightclub life. Centering on events in the lives of Bobby's colorful Bronx family, the film is a glittering valentine to the movie stars, socialites, playboys, debutantes, politicians, and gangsters who epitomized the excitement and glamour of the age.
PG-13

1. Woody Allen always has someone play him 
Mr. Allen is now 81 years old. It is quite spectacular that he is still writing and directing a movie every year. It's very inspiring. That being said, he doesn't play in his own movies anymore. Classic Allen films, like Annie Hall, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Hannah and Her Sisters, Manhattan Murder Mystery, and many more, Allen plays his signature bumbling, neurotic, cerebral, and hilarious persona. In recent years, though, he has cast wonderful actors to play his neurotic persona with varying results. In Midnight In Paris, Owen Wilson is an appropriate and nearly perfect version of Woody Allen. In Whatever Works, Larry David puts his spin on it. Even Will Ferrell has played Allen in Melinda and Melinda. This is true for Cafe Society. Jesse Eisenberg is a wonderful modern version of a young Woody Allen. As Bobby, he plays the nephew to a very powerful Hollywood agent named Phil Stern (Steve Carrell). 

Eisenberg plays Bobby with quiet confidence. The frothy, awkward bumbling seems more controlled than Allen used to play it. This is not bad, though. It seems appropriate for the character of Bobby. Woody Allen found a wonderful actor for his lovelorn musings in Eisenberg. 

2. Woody Allen is very nostalgic

Cafe Society is filled with gorgeous costumes and sets. That's half the reason to see this movie. His love for 1930's Hollywood is obvious. Classic movie star names like Judy Garland, Ginger Rogers, Errol Flynn, and many more are dropped throughout this movie   with romantic reverence. (Although they are never seen) Allen seems to long for those forgotten Hollywood days when movie stars were like Greek gods: bigger than life, ultra talented, and purely magical. Steve Carrell gives his single best performance ever as a high powered agent who drops these names and brags about having brunch with these stars like it's his job. (Because it is!) Allen finds every available second to mention different actors and squeeze them into conversations, to the point where it's borderline absurdity at times. But, it's always endearing. And, even though I'm not familiar with all the stars' names dropped, it's still interesting and enjoyable to witness the fondness with which they are treated in this movie. They're treated like mythical legends who are more than human. 



3. Cafe Society compared to other Woody Allen movies

The nostalgia of Cafe Society, and it's take on 1930's Hollywood and New York, is reminiscent of one of my all-time favorite Woody Allen movies, Radio Days. Like Radio Days, Cafe Society is as much about place and setting than anything else. The characters' love triangles, drama, and philosophical musings are mere background to the wonderful time and place. I would say Cafe Society shares more with Radio Days than any other Woody Allen movies. But, there are some other Allen movies that share traits with this one.

Much like Broadway Danny Rose, a 1984 showbiz satire, that also has a talent agent as its main character, Cafe Society focuses on the behind-the-scenes aspects of show business. But, where Broadway Danny Rose gets nitty gritty, irreverent, and satirical about show biz, Cafe Society goes the opposite direction with it and emphasizes the bigger-than-life romance of 30's Hollywood. It seems to be an earnest attempt by Allen to imagine the fantasy of what it must have been like to be in Hollywood at that time. 

Cafe Society also shares a thin resemblance to the 1998 take on Hollywood celebrity in the aptly named movie, Celebrity. It also has a fish-out-of-water aspect of a Hollywood writer trying to navigate the thorny waters of Hollywood. But, Celebrity takes on modern Hollywood instead of nostalgia Hollywood. And, I would be remiss if I didn't at least mention the movie Hollywood Ending, in which Allen plays a bumbling Hollywood director trying to bumble his way through his next cinematic masterpiece. But again, Hollywood Ending is modern as opposed to Cafe's classic take. 

4. The women 

Woody Allen is very choosey when it comes to casting women in his movies. Kristen Stewart is sultry, fascinating, and more beautiful in this role than any other role she's played. She plays Phil Stern's (Steve Carrell) secretary who has moved to Hollywood to pursue her dreams of fame. However, she has gotten somewhat jaded about it along the way, and immediately connects with Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg). Blake Lively plays a vibrant, glamorous woman named Veronica that Bobby meets later in the movie. Both actresses are great. And, Parker Posey is a wonderful stand-out as Rad Taylor. 

5. The Conclusion

But, what Cafe Society has that none of the other showbiz movies have is a sense of elegance, reflection, nostalgia, and philosophical indulgence. Like many other Woody Allen movies, this one is filled with characters that are artists, philosophers, writers, and actors. Everything about this movie is treated with whimsy, style, and reverence. This is classic Woody Allen on display. It is an art film for lovers of art films. If you have the chance to see it in a theater, please do it. Watch it for the costumes, the characters, and the sets. Enjoy the beautiful visuals and the nostalgia. 










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