Life is a comedy written by a sadistic comedy writer.
That’s a quote spoken by Bobby Dorfman, the central character (played by Jesse Eisenberg) in the new Woody Allen film Café Society. And in my opinion, that was the best line of the whole film. And it could only have been written by Woody.
Café Society is not really about society, be it the Hollywood film industry crowd – where the whole town runs on ego, or the Manhattan high society that is home to the swells decked out in black ties with their trophy wives or the gangster’s molls awash in jewels and furs. Yes, these are the folks that do all the night club trotting, and champagne swilling, that enables them to be called rich.
In reality, Cafe Society is a three-cornered love story with the ‘society’ continually flitting into the film, or showing up in the margins, in one scene after another.
There’s more of the Hollywood name dropping than you can imagine. Adolph Menjou nearly walked off the set. I’m working on a big deal for Irene Dunne. This is where Joan Crawford lives, and on and on.
Said another way, this is just Woody being Woody. When the young protagonist, Bobby Dorfman, out of the Bronx, finally gets some footing in the Hollywood Hills – he’s hired by his Uncle Phil Stern (Steve Carell).
Phil is a leading Hollywood mover and shaker, and king of the agent biz across town, and a philanderer. Bobby will be a glorified go-fer (agent to be) and a guest du jour at the various brunches, power lunches, and dinner soirees that Phil will either be hosting, or acting like a king in his court but on foreign turf. You just know that going in, that this sojourn in Bobby’s life can be expected to end badly for him, especially after he says, I’m not used to drinking champagne with my bagels and lox.
When he leaves La-la land, after the romance of his life (with Vonnie played by Kristen Stewart) crashes and burns, it seems that young Dorfman is just the on-screen presence (read that as a stand-in for Woody ) who returns to New York. Woody Allen has never been a big-fan of Hollywood. And Hollywood has never been an ardent admirer of Woody either. If he said as much before, he’s saying it again.
Speaking of which, much of this movie seems like so many of Woody’s recycled plot lines. Nothing new, just more of the same. Then again, Mr. Allen is 80 years of age, and although he has managed to maintain his one film a year output, many are saying that some of it seems a bit tired, or rushed, or incomplete.
Now this is not to say that Cafe Society does not have wonderful moments. Not at all. I think Allen loves the nostalgic look of Hollywood in the thirties’. Or Manhattan. Stuff that he missed while growing up in the Midwood section of Brooklyn.
In fact the costumes, the cars, the clothes and the sets are just wonderful to see. One can only imagine the work that went into getting the details so right. Like Phil Stern’s office. Like the movie theater where Bobby and Vonnie took in a film. Or the homes high up in the Hollywood hills.