Cafe Society

A love story for the ages…the ages it takes for the parking machine to print the damn ticket after you put in the coin. Jesus, it’s not War and Peace. Print the damn thing. Also, this movie sucks.

A fable without a moral. Or anything else.
Reported on 21st of June, 2016

There’s a funny moment in… Right, sorry. Start again.

There’s nary a funny moment in Café Society, or an interesting, or an insightful one. There is an odd moment right at the beginning of Café Society when Mr. Steve Carrell’s character is introduced as a great Hollywood agent of the 1940s. Being someone who knows about movies because he’s seen movies about movies, I’m aware that agents weren’t really a thing in the 1940s. Actors were contracted to studios and didn’t have many choices in the roles. It’s one of the reasons agents came into being. You’d know this if you’d ever read a book. About movies. What else is there?

Cafe Society

21 June 2016 @ The Gaumont Rennes

-$2.00 or, if one must be quotidian, and one must... 
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆


For this film universe we are treated instead:

I just signed Irene Dunn to Universal!
But agents don’t exist.
That’s why the exclamation point!
What’s the second one for!?
It’s superfluous!

It would seem that Mr. Allen is older than I, and is misremembering his time in the 1950s, where agents did matter, and conflating it with the time that he loves as if he was actually there. If that’s getting too personal, let’s switch to condescension: the conflated historiography makes Mr. Allen seem so old he’s become young again, and has wound up making a google book report. Couldn’t even bother with the wiki version? Just google wiki fer chrissakes.

Another reason the film seems to come from the internet teated – this is a fable without a maxim, for an age without ethos. Some background: the vast majority of Mr. Allen’s films post-Sleeper are very deliberately fables. Like the short stories for which he is justly feted, characters exist act and choose to teach us something. This is as true for the good (Vicky Christina Barcelona, Husbands and Wives, Annie Hall, Manhattan, Match Point, Midnight in Paris, Crimes and Misdemeanors) as bad (Irrational Man, Blue Jasmine, Hollywood Ending, Melinda and Melinda).

All the films have a lesson, and characters designed to demonstrate it. Be it ‘The Guilty Are Never Punished’ (C+M, Match Point), or ‘The Guilty Are Punished’ (Blue Jasmine), or ‘Emma Stone Walks Around On The Beach For A While’ (Irrational Man); there’s no point unless there’s a point.

And yes some schmuck said ‘If you want to send a message, use Western Union’, and then another schmuck attributed it to Samuel Goldwyn and then Goldwyn started taking credit for it himself because ‘A saying is just something that everyone says anyway.’ Which you can now attribute to him. Schmuck.

Without sparks, Mr. Eisenberg comes off like a bland philandering creep. They both do. It's not that you don't believe that they have chemistry, it's that you don't care. Also, you don't believe it.

But like when you kick the stone, when you say don’t send messages, you just sent a message. All films, whether Samuel Goldwyn ghost-speakers like it or not, are message movies. Good guys win in the end is a message, just as good guys who make movies about good guys winning in the end never winning awards or praise is a message.

The fable cuts both ways and engenders two qualities. The first is obvious – the film is written to the ending. We’re here to learn a moral, and events and characters organize themselves accordingly. The second is less so: scenes exist as placeholders. Every scene is an index card, a moment for characters to act or choose or do something that gets us to the lesson. This is why voice-over is so often used in his films, to wildly intermittent effect.

Many times Mr. Allen has pulled this off, if one takes the second part first. The scenes must get somewhere or do something. He (has) fooled us by writing ordinarily mechanical scenes in an unusually compelling way, either with well-drawn characters and actors who care about playing them, or with subconsciously revealing dialog, or both.

The scene where ‘Old Guy realizes Young Girl is not so great’ from H&W is an example that instantly comes to mind. Mr. Allen had to have this scene. He did not have to have it happen over Ms. Lysette Anthony’s discussion of ‘No. Astrology is real!’. It is painfully genius, and just actually painful. When you’re wearing your structure out on your sleeve, you have to work that much harder to cover it up. With a jacket, probably.

Unfortunately, taking the first part last, but also acknowledging that the second part in this case is just plain sucky, there is no moral to be learned in Café Society. Mr. Eisenberg is in love with Ms. Stewart, who marries Mr. Carrell. Eventually they have an affair. Yes, that really is the whole movie. Because you don’t believe me, I’m going to say it again. Yes, that is the whole movie. Given the content, and the casting of Ms. Stewart, it comes off very much as an underwritten version of Twilight, which is not a sentence I ever wanted to write about anyone.

Without purpose, Mr. Eisenberg comes off like a bland philandering creep. They both do. It’s not that you don’t believe that they have chemistry, it’s that you don’t care. Also, you don’t believe it.

Like the half-remembered fading images of agents past, Mr. Allen can’t help himself to autopilot the structure and index cards without the stuff that makes the movie. And no, that doesn’t count as lesson. You’re not going to see it. And I’m never going to learn.

The Take

Total Profits
Another encapsulating moment, which is different than a fable goddammit! At one point, a gangster brother (whose existence inflicts no effect on the story or interest on the audience) intervenes with the troublesome neighbor of his sister. ‘He threatened to shoot the dog!’ No dogs were shot, but obviously my ears perked up. In any case, this is what we call a beat. The gangster decides to kill the neighbor, and God speed. The problem is that we don’t see him decide, the scene just rushes to the end, and then to the next index card. It’s the shit between the blue lines (and possibly hiding in that one big red line) that matters. That’s an encapsulation, not a lesson or a moral!
Because I was bored but not enraged:
Total Losses


Thoughts on Cafe Society

  1. mary says:

    You are right, I’m never going to see it, because Woody Allen is so gross, and his movies about what pretty, rich people do is boring. However, just reading from your review, putting Kirsten Stewart and Steve Carrell in (did you say a marriage?) a film by WA just shows how bored pretty, rich people actually are (not counting WA of course). My question is, will the love triangle theme ever go out of style? Is WA so neurotic that this is the only plot mechanism he can relate to, plus pedophelia? Is there an end in sight, in your sage opinion? I prefer to read books.
    Yours Truly

    1. Scott Scott says:

      Are you saying that Woody Allen isn’t rich?

      There are good movies out there, don’t give up! Love and Friendship (Whit Stillman’s latest), if you get a chance.

      The last good one (Midnight in Paris) had a young man and an older woman…because he was time traveling. Does that count?

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