Young love separated by realities: Woody Allen keeps it real with a pinch of humour in Cafe Society

Kolkata is one such city in India which is steeped in art and culture for generations.  Home to several world renowned authors, composers, artists and directors, this city patronises various forms of art, such as literature, film, theatre, music, dance etc and as such has a strong penchant for Hollywood, which has produced some of the most critically acclaimed movies of all time. Amongst the top favourite Hollywood directors, besides Alfred Hitchcock, William Wyler, Steven Spielberg,   is Woody Allen, who is highly revered here for his enthralling art films. As defined by Wikipedia, an art film is intended to be a serious artistic work, often experimental and not designed for mass appeal, they are made primarily they are made primarily for aesthetic reasons rather than commercial profit and thus strikes a chord with the art film lovers of Kolkata.

After having recently overwhelmed the audience with his recent masterpieces like Blue Jasmine (2013), Midnight in Paris (2011), Vicky Christina Barcelona (2008), Match Point (2005), Woody Allen proves his story telling genius once again in his latest film, Cafe Society.

Like most of his earlier movies, this one too starts right on spot just after the opening credits, with a well scripted and engrossing narrative which takes the audience right into the story, offering a clear understanding of the baseline of the story without leaving a room for guesswork, which is one of his patent styles of storytelling.

Set in the late 1930s, the story opens with a vibrant pool side cocktail party scene where the crème de la crème of Hollywood are brushing shoulders and exchanging gossips and big business ideas, and present among these A-listers is Phil Stern (Steve Carell), a eminent figure in the crowd who happens to be the most sought after Hollywood talent agent in the film colony. In course of the party Phil receives a telephone call from his sister Rose who leads a humble livelihood in New York. She informs him that her youngest son Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg), who is his nephew, would be coming to Hollywood in search of better opportunity as he doesn’t want to continue with his father’s small time jewellery business and therefore requests him to offer him job at his agency, to which Phil responded in an unkindly fashion.

As communicated, Bobby arrives in Hollywood, and after several days of waiting he finally gets the chance to meet his busy uncle Phil who introduces him to his young and beautiful secretary Veronica, nicked name Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) who is being assigned the task of helping Bobby being familiarised with the city. In the following days, Bobby starts running errands for Phil and gets acquainted with who’s who of Hollywood and spends considerable time breezing around the town with Vonnie and tries to vie for her affection, but she politely turns him down by claiming to be in a relationship with a journalist named Doug, when she is actually in a relationship with Bobby’s married uncle, Phil.

Cafe Society film review woody allen

Vonnie’s secret affair with Phil comes to a tragic halt, when on their paper anniversary she presents a letter written and signed by the famous Rudolph Valentino to Phil and learns that he can’t end his 25 years of marriage as promised and can’t led a double life therefore needs to end the relationship. A devastated Vonnie turns to Bobby for support and affection, and confides the heartbreaking incident without disclosing the true identity of her heartbreaker.

Soon their friendship turns to love and Bobby plans to move back to New York to start a new life with her. When Bobby approaches his uncle to share this news, he learns that Phil is contemplating to leave his wife as he is in love with a young lady, whose name he doesn’t disclose, but an excited Bobby shares the details of his budding romance with Vonnie, on knowing which Phil becomes more eager to win her back.

Bobby, who had been totally in the dark about Phil and Vonnie’s affair, learns about it when he spots the framed letter by Valentino gifted by Vonnie at Phil’s office and questions Vonnie whether she will pick him or his uncle. Vonnie picks Phil.

A heartbroken Bobby returns to New York and joins his notorious gangster brother Ben’s (Corey Stoll) night club business which soon becomes a frequent hotspot for the rich and famous, including showbiz stars to stock brokers, from politicians to socialites, made possible with the help of Bobby’s Hollywood friends. At this very night club Bobby gets smitten the newly divorced socialite Veronica Hayes (Blake Lively) and eventually marries her.

Cafe Society film review woody allen

As life moves on for Bobby, he gets a surprise visit from the newly married Phil and Vonnie at his night club. Vonnie is no longer the simple and down to earth girl anymore; she loves to gossip about her Hollywood folks much to Bobby’s dismay. However during her stay in New York, Bobby takes out Vonnie around the town without Phil, rekindling their past chemistry. And at the break of dawn during their brief romantic spree, Vonnie explains to Bobby that she had to choose stability over any romantic adventure and hence she chose Phil over him.

Meanwhile, Ben, who has built a livelihood for himself through extortion and killing his opponents, ends up in the court of law and gets sentenced to death. Ironically the scandal around Bobby’s gangster brother makes the night club more famous and Bobby considers opening another one in Hollywood and so makes a trip to the tinsel town. On his visit, he meets Vonnie and the two realise that they still have feelings for each other which probably won’t die and it is ignited every time they meet and it would be wiser if they don’t see each other anymore.

Then the following scene shifts to New Year’s Eve celebrations, which shows the two separated lovers at two different parties with their respective spouses and folks. Here Woody captures the emotions and romanticism beautifully in the end, the power of a dream being a dream. Though the two protagonists are seen leading different lives in different places, however they could feel and cherish each other’s presence even amongst crowded celebrations. Their dream of being with each other stays a dream, and they momentarily delve in these thoughts, oblivious of the surrounding reality, the blending of two souls is shown with fade-in and fade-out of the two faces.

While telling the stories of heartbreaks and separations, Woody Allen doesn’t concentrate on mourning part of relationships or self-destructiveness, to lighten the mood he quickly turns the focus to the other characters and developments which form an integral part of the stories which directors often miss out on, thus sparing the audience from any mournful scenes or experience.

To keep the sense of humour flowing, like most of Woody’s films, this too is packed with humorous one liners like “unrequited love kills more people in a year than tuberculosis”, “Life is a comedy written by sadistic comedy writer”, “Socrates says : the unexamined life is not worth living, but the examined one is no bargain”.

Also not to forget the utterly humorous scenes, where Bobby is being modest to a call girl after learning about her Jewish roots and the reaction of Bobby’s parent’s after their gangster Jewish son chooses to convert to Christianity before he is being electrocuted by law. As always, the master film maker beautifully puts together a story of an unfulfilled love with light hearted comedy in Cafe Society.

Cafe Society film review woody allen

Movie Duration: 1 hr 36 mins
Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Blake Lively, Corey Stoll

Image credits:
Movie Poster
The scene where Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) trries to woo Vonnie (Kristen Stewart )
Image 2:
Bobby’s (Jesse Eisenberg) first encounter with Veronica Hayes (Blake Lively) at his night club