Written and Directed by : Woody Allen
Jesse Eisenberg’s Bobby is a natural Woody Allen avatar in Café Society, and while he nails the voice patterns and body language, his greatest achievement is the ability to maintain the gulf of unbelievability that has always existed between Woody and his leading ladies.
When Bobby moves from the Bronx to work with his uncle Phil (Steve Carrell) in Hollywood, he soon meets and falls for Phil’s down to earth secretary Vonny (Kristen Stewart). But things are not straight forward for this young couple as Vonny reveals she has a boyfriend ,so this will be a love story with the sharp and pointy bits of a triangle.
As always, Woody Allen is the star of the show and his unique voice bursts through each line of dialogue, but in Café Society he acts as the narrator so we hear his actual voice too which doesn’t help with the suspension of disbelief. It’s almost like it’s slide night at Woody’s house and he is showing us some pictures to help flesh out the story he is telling us.
Set in 1930, the set designers clearly had great fun stocking the backgrounds and you can almost see the glee the costumers took in dressing the cast, but everything else seems fake. You don’t really buy Steve Carrell as the high powered Hollywood Agent, the peripheral characters all seem too familiar and despite the number of real names dropped, any attempt at realism is half-hearted.
When the action shifts back to New York, the same problem continues as the sets are clearly sets, the gangster scenes are played for laughs so when you are hit over the head with Woody Allenesque themes of infidelity and May/December romances, it’s impossible to stop your mind drifting towards the personal lives of the main players.
But when you discover what Woody was really interested in exploring, you are pulled back into the movie. Everything else in the lead up were just the ingredients required to make the main meal and he doesn’t care that much if they looked a bit threadbare on the plate. The whole purpose was to get this young couple together, pull them apart and then see what happens when they meet again after their lives have taken them in different directions. In a movie that starts so light and breezy, it’s a shock to switch so quickly into unexpected depth and it takes a moment to acclimatise, but it saves the movie
It’s interesting that at the age of 80, Woody is still exploring what might have been. By the time you had seen so many summers you would have hoped that you would have got over the lost love of one of them, but perhaps that is really what Woody is telling us. Life moves on but even when you are trying to live in the present, your mind remembers and uses dreams to pull you back. While his characters dismiss ‘dreams as just being dreams’, you get the sense that he really thinks that dreaming is the one chance you get to talk to yourself without any interruptions from anybody else.