What Might Have Been And Is

Woody Allen’s new film Café Society features flat characters and a thin plot and yet remains appealing. 

A 1930s romantic dramedy, this film offers the story of Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg), who leaves his father’s New York jewelry business for Hollywood where, as he is convincing his uncle Phil (Steve Carell) to give him a job at his talent agency, he is introduced to Vonnie (Kristen Stewert), his uncle’s much younger mistress. Although they fall in love, Vonnie chooses his uncle, and Bobby returns to New York where he marries Veronica (Blake Lively) and works at his brother Ben’s (Corey Stoll) nightclub. In New York, he puts these events behind him until Vonnie arrives with Phil at the nightclub, and they remember what they could have had but didn’t and, they agree, shouldn’t.

This film, in terms of artistic aspects, is a mixed experience. Suzy Benzinger’s costumes perfectly evoke the period, for example, and Allen’s and Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro’s camera work is masterful. The ensemble, though, is uneven — Eisenberg is a good actor, just not in this role, and Stewart has never impressed me with much depth or range. (Neither seems an Allen actor.) The others, including Ken Stott as Bobby’s father Marty or Sari Lennick as his sister Evelyn, offer convincing and at times compelling performances.

Allen certainly knows how to hit the emotional high notes, as he does most consistently in the New York scenes, and his script does capture the absurdities of everyday life as a comedy “written by a sadistic comedy writer.” It also suggests, in the dual New Year’s Eve parties after Bobby and Vonnie agree to avoid meeting again, the pathos of possible lives as opposed the ones we actually live.

Dreams are just dreams and, as the film suggests, so much more.

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