“Café Society” Another Nostalgic Woody Allen Film
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Titled “Café Society,” it’s set in the 1930s. Woody Allen is at his best when he’s being nostalgic. Over time, his older films have taken on a past-tense patina. But many of his newer films deliberately turn back the clock, like an older man reminiscing about his younger days.
In “Radio Days,” Allen shared memories that might have been from his childhood. With “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” he waxed on about movies during the Great Depression. “Bullets Over Broadway” explored that same halcyon time frame. And “Madness in the Moonlight” performed its magic in the late ‘20s.
Sure, “Play It Again Sam” was set in present tense, but Allen was humming “As Time Goes By.” And “Midnight in Paris” took an interesting twist: Viz-à-viz the enchanting use of time travel, Allen transported us back to the Lost Generation of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
With “Café Society,” he returns (as the old-time radio announcer used to say) to those thrilling days of yesteryear. In fact, Woody Allen himself provides the voice-over narration.
“Café Society” is playing at Tropic Cinema.
Now in his 80s, Woody Allen is too old to act the leading man in his films, so for this one he uses Jesse Eisenberg (“The Social Network”) as his surrogate. Eisenberg embodies the socially awkward autobiographical character Woody Allen has been delivering from his stand-up comedy days to himself in “Annie Hall” to Owen Wilson in “Midnight in Paris.”
Here, we meet Bobby Dorfman (Eisenberg), a nice young Jewish boy from the Bronx (note: Allen was born in the Bronx) who goes to Hollywood to work with his uncle Phil (Steve Carell), a high-powered agent who name-drops all the big stars of the ‘30s. There Bobby meets Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), his unc’s secretary and falls hard for her. However, Vonnie is snared in a love triangle and therefore does not go back to New York with Bobby. In the Big Apple, he winds up in the nightclub business with his gangster brother Ben (Corey Stall) and gets wrapped up in … café society.
And this is how Bobby ends up, a Bogart-like figure in a white tux, hiding a broken heart, trapped in the wrong marriage.
Always the ventriloquist, Woody Allen drops plenty of funny insights through his character’s dialogue. “Live every day like it’s your last and some day you’ll be right.” Or, “Life is comedy, but it’s one written by a sadistic comedy writer.” That would be Woody, of course. Still rhapsodizing about the meaninglessness of life.
“Café Society” is quintessential Woody Allen -- a montage of elegant imagery and jazz music, intellectual witticisms and nervous anxiety, plus a certain predictable cynicism about romance. Here you will encounter all his familiar tropes -- life, chance, fate, love, guilt.
May as well say, Play it again, Woody.