“I’m kind of half-bored, half-fascinated,” said Jesse Eisenberg’s character Bobby Dorfman in Woody Allen’s latest film, Cafe Society. A better description of this film could not be had by anyone.
Cafe Society follows the story of Bobby, a young man who comes to 1930s Hollywood to try and kick start his life. His uncle Phil (Steve Carell) is a big shot Hollywood agent who gives Bobby a gopher job and promises to introduce him around. In order to help Bobby learn more about Hollywood, Phil instructs his secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) to show him around. Bobby falls in love with her, but Vonnie tells him she has a boyfriend who is a journalist.
This relationship is the crux to the film, as Bobby wins the heart and loses the heart of Vonnie quickly in the narrative and we go on with the life after. Although both Eisenberg and Stewart give very strong performances, I did not have enough of a connection to this couple to make me care about fighting for them. When Vonnie makes a decision about midway through the film, that decision effectively ended any connection I may have made with that couple and the later scenes when they circled back around to the relationship again, I did not care.
This was one of the problems with the story. It was too long. It really dragged on as the narrative continued. The film is listed at 96 minutes, but it felt considerably longer than that.
One of the reasons the film dragged on was the use of the rest of the Dorfman clan as background story. The film seemed to want to be both a story of the entire family, but also just a story about Bobby. The movie goes through explanations and flashbacks for Bobby’s gangster brother Ben (Corey Stoll), his sister Evelyn (Sari Lennick) and her problems with her next door neighbor, and their Jewish mother Rose (Jeannie Berlin) and her stereotypical worrying. All of this felt like a distraction from the story that the movie wanted to tell. However, some of the backstory of these characters was interesting or funny (in particular the gangster Ben who kept killing people and sticking them in cement), so I would hate to see it removed completely. I just think it should have been more balanced.
I did enjoy the setting. The movie is a period piece around the 1930s lifestyle in Hollywood and New York. The costuming was wonderful as everyone looked beautiful.
I am just not sure if this movie was about the relationship between Bobby and Vonnie or if it were about the Dorfman clan, and I do not think the filmmakers know either. I know that I did not care enough of the Bobby-Vonnie relationship by the last act of the movie where you are supposed to feel melancholy and nostalgic about the pair. Their “reuniting” in New York after years felt forced and uninspired. I think I would have rather focused on the Dorfman family because Corey Stoll steals every scene he is in.