Café So­ci­ety

After tak­ing a break from re­view­ing Woody Allen’s movies, I find they’re just as sloppy and self-in­dul­gent as ever


CAFÉ SO­CI­ETY writ­ten and di­rected by Woody Allen, with Jesse Eisen­berg, Kris­ten Ste­wart, Steve Carell and Corey Stoll. A Mon­grel Me­dia re­lease. 96 min­utes. Opens Fri­day (July 29). For venues and times, see Movies, page 54. Rat­ing: N

Full dis­clo­sure: I stopped re­view­ing Woody Allen movies in 2009 (with What­ever Works) be­cause I ran out of things to say about them. But after seven years I fig­ured I should try again. It’s not like I’ve stopped watch­ing them, after all, though mostly I’ve been catch­ing up with each new film on disc when year-end awards vot­ing rolls around.

So I went to see Café So­ci­ety, and hon­estly, I should have stayed home. Allen’s ap­proach to film­mak­ing hasn’t changed at all: he barely di­rects his ac­tors, he doesn’t care about pac­ing or struc­ture, and he long ago stopped try­ing to rep­re­sent hu­man be­hav­iour in any re­al­is­tic man­ner. He re­mains firmly, frus­trat­ingly fix­ated on the same hand­ful of topics: guilt, shame, class, jazz and older men sleep­ing with younger women.

Café So­ci­ety con­fig­ures those themes as the story of Bobby Dorf­man (Jesse Eisen­berg), who comes to Hol­ly­wood in the 1930s to work for his un­cle Phil (Steve Carell), a hotshot agent. Bobby is de­ter­mined to se­duce Phil’s em­ployee Von­nie (Kris­ten Ste­wart), who is se­cretly Phil’s mis­tress. Mean­while, back home in the Bronx, Bobby’s gang­ster brother Ben (Corey Stoll) is killing peo­ple

to get into the night­club busi­ness, be­cause Allen re­mem­bers how much peo­ple liked the con­trast of ve­nal and mor­tal sins in Crimes And Mis­de­meanors.

Direc­tors are al­lowed to have favourite themes, of course, but most of them are bet­ter at weav­ing them into the fab­ric of a movie. Allen’s char­ac­ters just talk them out; sub­text is for the young, I sup­pose. And as hap­pens in­creas­ingly of­ten in his films, the lack of any real artis­tic over­sight leads Allen down some very weird paths.

Café So­ci­ety has a scene in which Pitch Per­fect’s Anna Camp shows up as a novice pros­ti­tute sum­moned to the lonely Bobby’s door – only to have him shame her for her line of work and refuse to have sex be­cause they’re both Jewish. She’s never seen again, and I have no idea what Allen thinks that scene is about.

I have no idea what Allen thinks the en­tire movie is about. Yes, Vit­to­rio Storaro makes Old Hol­ly­wood look sun-dap­pled and gor­geous, and the pe­riod fash­ions look es­pe­cially great on the likes of Ste­wart, Camp and Blake Lively, who shows up in the last third of the film as a wealthy di­vor­cée. But Café So­ci­ety isn’t about any­thing other than Allen’s own self-in­dul­gence. It’s not even about cafés; most of the pic­ture takes place in bars and clubs.

Any­way, that’s me out. As­sum­ing we’re both still work­ing, I’ll check back with him in 2023. normw@now­ | @normwilner

Jesse Eisen­berg and Kris­ten Ste­wart: where are the cafés?

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