Café Society – Summer Blockbuster Review

By Collin Lotter | @CLotter64

That's right, in the midst of huge juggernaut summer blockbusters such as Star Trek Beyond, Jason Bourne, Ghostbusters, and The Legend of Tarzan, the movie I wanted to review the most was the new Woody Allen enterprise Café Society!  One thing I really appreciate about Woody Allen in the twilight of his career is that with each passing summer, despite the recycled popcorn blockbusters that cloud our movie calendars, we usually get a one-weekend firewall of originality and storytelling of the purest form via his movies. Before we dive into his latest effort with Café Society, let us ask the question we are all thinking… How does he do it?? It’s mind-boggling that a man at the mere age of 80 can write and direct his own movies, producing hit after hit routinely. It is seriously like clockwork, down to a formulated science, that a man like Woody Allen can take a new ensemble cast, setting, story and direction and have it ready for the masses to enjoy every calendar year. There is no question that Woody has his loyal sycophants and his lightning rod critics, due to off camera personal life choices, but no one can deny the effectiveness as a director and the likeability of his movies for every generation. If you analyze his filmography any director would kill to have a slew of hits such as Blue Jasmine (for which Cate Blanchett won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 2014), Magic in the Moonlight, To Rome with Love, Midnight in Paris, Whatever Works, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona. This run of films, accomplished in only the last eight years, is incredibly impressive.

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With all this being said, and considering the pedigree stated above, I was a little apprehensive going in to see Café Society. The reviews have been solid, but not overwhelmingly great. Also a confession; I am not a huge fan of Jesse Eisenberg or Kristen Stewart, nor do I really gravitate towards Blake Lively movies, and I feel a little jaded toward 1930s/1940s Old Hollywood movies after Hail, Caesar! became my least favorite Coen brothers movie in ages. Unless Steve Carell had another Foxcatcher performance in him, I was nervous that this movie would not meet even minimal expectations. However, after walking out of the theater, I felt satisfied and fulfilled with another solid Woody Allen movie. Let me state it definitely did not blow me away, and it’s no Blue Jasmine, Vicky Cristina Barcelona or Midnight in Paris (all recent hits for Allen), but Café Society really is an enjoyable watch; it’s funny, fast-paced and well-performed. The backdrops of Old Hollywood and Manhattan are electric considering the budget, and the satire in the film is really enjoyable.

Café Society is certainly a period drama depicting the glamorous life of a Hollywood agent in the ‘30s, but it's also a family drama portraying the life of a Jewish family doing their damnedest to make it in the Bronx.  The story, set in the 1930s, follows a young Bronx native named Bobby (Eisenberg), who moves to Hollywood to work for his uncle, Phil Stern (Carell), a film mogul and agent to the stars. Stern's secretary, Vonnie (Stewart), agrees to show Bobby around town and get him adjusted to the glamorous life as he starts networking with the who's who of tinsel town. Bobby begins to develop feelings for Vonnie who is actually already in a secretive and forbidden relationship. After all three characters make some life-altering decisions Bobby is tempted by the idea of either chasing Vonnie in Hollywood or returning to New York where he could find a life as a family man, running a high society nightclub he inherited from his gangster brother (Corey Stoll).

The truth about this movie, after digesting it, is it really does play like any other Woody Allen movie. Café Society is not groundbreaking by any measure and may not have a huge foothold during the awards season stretch early next year. However, this feels like a semi-passion piece that Allen wanted to make, serving almost as an indirect love letter to the Hollywood that he grew up idolizing.  All the name-dropping of the major “A-list” movie stars in this film prompts the thought that this was the glitz and glamour crowd that he wanted to rub elbows with as an impressionable kid growing up in the blue-collar part of New York City. No one can really fault him for giving us a peek into what motivated him at an early age and his visions of what might be if he pursued a career in the motion picture business. Here we stand, nearly 50 years of what has been an incredible career, and we are most pleased that he did make that decision to give Hollywood a try.