By Melanie Coffey
Woody Allen’s newest romantic comedy-drama, “Café Society,” is anything but romantic. A beautiful film in every way except for the characters, this latest film has the audience and box office questioning its success.
The story of the fast-talking, Brooklyn-born Bobby Dorfman, played by Jesse Eisenburg, and his adventures and mishaps in 1930s Los Angeles, made for what should have been a funny and beautiful love-story. However, the casting of Kristen Stewart and the idolization of her character, Vonnie, the romance between her and Phil, played by Steve Carell, and her and Bobby seemed to fall short. While she smiled more in this movie than in any I have ever seen her in, she was still stoic and not very interesting to watch. She does not need to be animated, you want a subtle actor when it comes to acting on film, but the casting of her as the love interest with two men fighting over her and dreaming about her over the years just does not seem realistic.
Teamed up with the fast-talking, type-casted Jesse Eisenburg—who could have been plating into of his past roles in the film and we would never have known the difference—the love story between Vonnie and Bobby brought the entire film down.
To win back the audience, the film was beautifully shot. Each scene was set up with visually appealing symmetry and excellent camera frames. One of the best parts was a beautiful shot where Vonnie and Bobby are walking into a cave; the shot is framed in such a way to show the jagged rocks of the cave they are walking into.
Each scene is made up of characters dressed in a beautiful array of costumes, from classic movie star gowns to mini-skirts and crop-tops. From the costumes alone, it is easy to understand why “Café Society” is the most expensive film Woody Allen has ever made. The lighting is also terrific. With the warm, soft lighting of jazz clubs in the early mornings and the bright sunshine of an L.A. beach it added a nostalgic feeling to the film, harkening back to classic Hollywood days. This combination of cinematography, costumes, and lighting painted a romanticized version of 1930s L.A., one where the action of gangsters covering bodies with cement was a running gag.
Sitting in a small cinema in Roslyn on a Wednesday evening, with an audience of four—including myself—the box office fumble was apparent. Granted, the movie was released on July 15, so the hoards of Woody Allen fans have come and gone long ago, but the movie never seemed to have struck a chord with its audience. Being Allen’s most expensive movie, with a budget of $30 million, and past box office successes, such as, “Annie Hall” and “Midnight in Paris,” it would be expected that “Café Society” would follow the same pattern. Unfortunately for Allen, the film has not even made a profit, only earning $20.8 million at the box office, according to google. This is a big hit for Allen after his last two films made more than double their budget. While it seemed like it would be the right time for a movie like “Cafe Society,” a film that doesn’t feature superheroes or is an adaptation of a young adult novel, unfortunately, it has not been successful.
Even though “Café Society” is not a movie that needs to be watched over and over again, or really more than once, it was entertaining and interesting. After leaving the theater that night, the casting and characters were questioned, but the film as a whole was a much-needed step into the past that was beautiful and smart.