Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Café Society [2016]

MPAA (PG-13)  ChicagoTribune (2 1/2 Stars)  RogerEbert.com (3 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RogerEbert.com (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review  


Café Society [2016] (written and directed by Woody Allen [wikip] [IMDb]) is ... "this year's Woody Allen movie."  That said, one does wonder, he being 81 years of age, how many more he'll be able to make.

Indeed, on numerous levels there was a swansong quality to this film: 

First, this was a nostalgia / period piece set in both New York / Hollywood of yesteryear (more or less of the 1930s): A young Jewish kid named "Bobby" (played by Jesse Eisenberg) from The Bronx sets out to L.A. in hopes that his "made it there" rich "Hollywood producer" uncle Phil Stern (played by Steve Carell) could find him a job / some job "in the business." 

Well, wide eyed Bobby got an education in disappointment and not just in employment but above all in human frailty.  While there, he watches his uncle leave his wife of 25 years for a 25 year old.  And Bobby hears his uncle confess to him "My wife did nothing wrong.  She's a good woman and has been a good wife."  So why did he leave her?  He simply fell, completely fell for the other (much) younger woman.  On the flip side, Bobby learned (to his disappointment) that he really wasn't yet ready for the seemingly age appropriate woman that he had fallen for, Vonnie (played by Kristen Stewart).  There some things being said there that Allen would have experience with.

Bobby returns, disappointed, to New York and gets a job working at a club for another uncle of his, Ben Dorfman (played by Corey Stoll) who, having not exactly lived an honest life and staring death in the face, despite having been born and raised Jewish, has something of a last-gasp conversion to ... CATHOLICISM ;-).  Why?  The possibility of both forgiveness and an afterlife.  "I'd want something of me to go on after I die."  And even one of his sisters admits: "If we Jews believed in an afterlife, we'd probably have more followers."  On one hand, it all seems rather flippant.  On the other hand, even with a smile, Allen makes some of the most penetratingly serious movies around (witness last year's Irrational Man [2015]) and at 81 ... Allen today is facing (approaching) death as well.  Again, there's a lot being suggested in this rather surprising subplot.

Finally, Allen himself does the voice over / narration parts in this film and it is clear that he was struggling with his own lines, especially at the beginning.

So yes, as much as I've enjoyed so many of Woody Allen's movies over the years, it's pretty clear to me that there aren't going to be many more.  And if there's been a "Confessional" quality to a number of his most recent films, I'm neither surprised and actually somewhat relieved for him.  For I do belong to the Catholic Church, and I do believe therefore that we will meet our Maker at the end.  And what certainly coming to terms with what we've done in this life (both the Good and not so Good) certainly would make that encounter easier.

In any case, Allen leaves his viewers (again) with a quite a lot to think about.


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