Cafe Society

 

            A comfortably typical Woody Allen film, with a twist:  a love triangle intersected by another love triangle.

            It's Hollywood in the Golden Era, the 1930's.  While the rest of the country is wallowing in a Depression, men like Mayer and Goldwyn and Fox are making the very successful movies, the stars are beautiful and glamorous, and everyone is always well-dressed in public. The Hollywood parties are famous for hobnobbing, gossip, dropping names, and making connections.  Attracted to those lavish cocktail parties are certain rich hangers-on who want to be producers, like minor European royalty.  And yes, like certain public figures of the Mob, adding just the right whiff of danger and intrigue.  The music was big band and jazz, designed for people to dance smoothly and gracefully together.  And in this version of Woody Allen's idealized world, it's also like a typical 1930's movie in that nobody cusses.  And there's no nudity.  And there's no gross-out humor.  The little violence is so low-key it's practically comical.  Though the characters do tend to find themselves in certain, ah, adult situations.

            Phil Stern (Steve Carell) is a big-time Hollywood deal-maker, who throws the parties that everyone attends.  His wife is lovely and gracious, and he's constantly holding court and dropping names, because it's all good for business.  He has a couple of sisters, one of whom lives in Ohio and is married to a professor, and the other is back in Jersey, where her husband owns a small business.  He doesn't see them much.  But when the New Jersey sister calls about Phil looking after her son who's coming out to Hollywood to find a job, Phil wishes he didn't have a nephew.  And when Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) finally arrives, Phil tries to avoid seeing him..

            Bobby is one of these deer-in-the-headlights kind of nerds who seems incredibly sincere, and overweeningly nice, but not much else.  Suffering the snubs of his Uncle, he's so lonely he arranges for an escort, but that turns into a poignant disaster as she turns out to be wanna-be starlet who's never done this kind of thing before, and neither has he, and after a couple of false starts, they just forget the whole thing.

            Finally, Bobby gets in Phil's office, where Phil, after trying hard to impress him with how busy and important he is, finally gives him a job as a gopher and errand boy, which at least gets Bobby's foot in the door.  Phil also suggests to his secretary, Vonny (Kristen Stewart) that she show him around town a little bit.  Bobby is immediately smitten, even though Vonny tells him she has a boyfriend.  Nonetheless, they find themselves spending a lot of time together, and enjoying each other's company.  She's bright and cheerful and pretty, he's sweet and charming and attentive.  All the makings for an old-fashioned romance.

            Except that her “boyfriend,” it turns out, is Phil himself, who just can't decide whether to leave his loving wife for his beautiful young secretary.  Vonny, meanwhile, finds herself falling in love with Bobby as well as Phil, but eventually chooses Phil because, well, he's the successful one.

            Bobby, devastated, returns to New York, where he uses his newfound social skills to help his brother set up a nightclub, which turns out to be “the place to go.”  He marries a beautiful woman (Blake Lively) and they have a baby, and she's soon concentrating on being on Mom.  Which leaves him free to fall back in love with Vonny when she and Phil suddenly visit the nightclub.  Now her misery at being in love with two people at once is shared by him, and the star-crossed lovers find themselves, at the end, stunned at the fickle power of love.

            Yes, it's a typical Woody Allen theme, and the characters talk like him because he wrote the script, and he even dubs the voice-overs.  It's all him.  But there's nobody quite like him, either, or his whimsical point of view.

 

Questions for Discussion:

1)                  Have you ever found yourself in love with two people at once?  What was the outcome?

2)                  Have you ever seen a love triangle work out happily for everyone?

3)                  Do you ever wish you lived in a world where everybody still dressed up in public?

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critcs Association