Café Society Review – Woody Allen Hits a Four Star Homerun

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Café Society, from Lionsgate and Amazon Studios, presents the newest film from quintessential New York director Woody Allen, who charms with a less neurotic and inviting bi-coastal look on The Golden Age, family, romance, love, choice and circumstance.

Written and directed by Woody Allen, Café Society stars Jeannie Berlin, Steve Carell, Jesse Eisenberg, Blake Lively, Parker Posey, Kristen Stewart, Corey Stoll, Ken Stott and co-starring Anna Camp, Stephen Kunken, Sari Lennick, Sheryl Lee, Paul Schneider.

Café Society begins with voice over introducing us to the era – Hollywood’s Golden Age, the movers and shakers, those who molded careers, destroyed them, shifted players and people. Needless to say no there was no greater power player in the industry than strong, handsome, charismatic Phil Stern, played by Steve Carell.

We meet Phil as he is holding court, poolside, at his Hollywood Hills home at one of his famous parties. Everyone who is anyone or wanted to be someone would have for the invitation to one of Phil and Karen parties.

On this night Phil is summoned to the telephone, as he is waiting for a call from Greta Garbo, he takes it. It is his sister in the Bronx, Rose Dorfman, played by Jeannie Berlin, who explains, her son, his nephew, Bobby, played by Jesse Eisenberg, is one his way out to Los Angeles and to give him a job.

Bobby arrives and off to the hottest talent agency in Hollywood to visit his uncle he finds that the big life is consuming and chaotic with time sensitivities and restraints, in other words Uncle Phil is busy and for Bobby he remains busy for three weeks.

Finally, he is available to meet his nephew whom he obviously hasn’t seen for years, as Rose and her husband, Marty, played by Ken Stott, talk Phil is not a good Jew. As Rose and Marty discuss Phil’s departure from Jewish guilt, Ben Dorfman, played by Corey Stall is rewarding his Mom for her potato pancakes.

Ben we find out is a gangster, part of the self-made rise of New York corruption, Evelyn, his sister, played by Sari Lennick and her husband, Leonard played by Stephen Kunken, are intellectuals, a good Jewish family, caring for home and family.

Bobby is living the big life, well okay so he is in L.A. Sitting in front of the legendary Phil Stern, Bobby explains he needs a job. And while Phil begins with the there’s nothing right now, maybe, possibly, not sure, then he finally after seeing the look of desperation gives in and makes him his Personal Assistant with family privileges; Invitations to the parties, introductions to those shaping Hollywood.

And then Phil calls his assistant Vonnie, played by Kristen Stewart, into office to show his nephew around the town. And the two become fast friends and over time more than friends. Vonnie it seems is attached to a traveling journalist and made it clear they could only be friends. Until one day when the journalist disappeared from her life.

During this time, Phil is making and breaking careers and having Bobby at his home, meeting his friends which is where we meet Rad, a true New Yorker, played by Parker Posey who runs a modeling agency and her screenwriting/investor husband Steve, played by Paul Schneider.

Bobby soon decides he is a tried and true New Yorker and after proposing to Vonnie, and meeting the “journalist” he decides to return to New York and run his brother’s club.

Life changed. A full stop. And soon, he meets, through Rad and Steve, the love, or so it seems, of his life, Veronica played by Blake Lively.

Café Society is a wonderfully, charming film. Allen tells the story of love, from a male perspective and when and if it really ever shows up in its truest form, life, ceases to exists in analytic fashion. The world continues, life pursuits remain, success and its trappings build, the heart however is playing a part. 

For our star crossed, destined lovers, Vonnie and Bobby, the flame it seems never dies and leaves one wondering if the lives we live and the ones we choose are the same. Can one exist without the other? Is monogamy based in physicality only; can lovers be lovers separated by time and distance and lead a fulfilling life? I suppose one can rationalize and even honestly profess answers that can’t withstand evidence and yet, does love, a confident, genuine and consummated love need constant nurturing?

Love has driven Phil out of his mind, which apparently is what love does. A man will leave a life that from the outside looking in has the appearance of solid, permanent, forever when love shows up. Café Society presents the challenge of having a relationship that controls you, and your actions are almost not your own and produce driving feelings and one that is good, and emotionally manageable and doesn’t control is the thin line that separates.

If it controls, hell or high water won’t stop the made up mind. If it is controllable then it can be fulfilling, and still the absence, ache or the undefinable remains.

Woody Allen captures the essence of a bygone era, the Golden Age of Hollywood, the art deco and warm hues and the streetscapes of the Bronx. If I had one critique of Café Society, it would be that it ended too soon.

As the screening ended, my mind was completely filled with the characters and I wanted to provide them with a proper ending. Allen gives us an ending and by the end of the film we are transfixed with the lives and choices of our characters and we dream with them imagining a different ending . . .if there could be one.

Woody Allen brings a Gatsby-esque revival with the perfection of the 1930's Hollywood film industry dripping with tidbits of stars of yesteryear, parties, lavish lives and empires a brilliant look at Hollywood’s Golden Age and New York with the rise of corruption, and Long Island’s opulent North Shore high society. 

With a strong talented cast, Café Society presents effortless performances, so seamless they transport the audience to the era, moments, and we are naturally walking with them.  

Café Society opened the 69th Cannes Film Festival and opens in select U.S. cities July 16, 2016.

Cafe Society is Woody Allen's best film in years. Four Stars. 

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