Life’s Often Best Approached Backwards: Our Review of 2016’s Café Society (Spoilers Ahead)

Often the best way to approach something, make it more palatable even, is to approach it in reverse.

Tests getting you down? Start from the last question onward to the first.

Your New York City jewellery business proving stultifying? Why not move to Los Angeles and move back to New York?

Having trouble writing a piece on director/screenwriter Woody Allen’s 2016 feature film, Café Society? Add his trademarks, the article’s final photo and watch his gaze disappear beneath the rising word count.

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(from left to right) Stars Corey Stoll and Blake Lively, director/screenwriter Woody Allen and stars Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival for their 2016 feature film, Café Society (Fashion-District.org Photo and Caption)

In the vein of our intro, 2016’s Café Society follows Jesse Eisenberg’s Bobby Dorfman from his New York roots to the talent-agency world of Hollywood and back to the shadier New York nightclub scene.

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(from left to right) Stars Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart and director/screenwriter Woody Allen on the set of 2016’s Café Society (Variety.com Photo)

Over the course of the film’s ninety-six minutes, director/screenwriter Woody Allen makes points about how people need to be uncomfortable to value what they had before (à la Bobby’s return to New York City after finding Hollywood too nasty).

Also, people often crave higher social status over anything else, even at the expense of their beliefs (akin to Kristen Stewart’s Vonnie’s desire to marry Steve Carell’s Phil over Bobby and Corey Stoll’s Ben’s choice to become a gangster to avoid his father’s life and to convert on death row to gain an afterlife).

Similarly, that life is always lived at someone else’s expense or connection (not dissimilar to Bobby’s questo for work with first Phil and later Ben; or Vonnie choosing Phil for his lifestyle over Bobby for his feelings for her or even; Ben’s early work robbing the craps players or killing Sari Lennick’s Evelyn’s neighbour for her peace of mind.

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(from left to right) Star Kristen Stewart, director/screenwriter Woody Allen and star Jesse Eisenberg on the set of 2016’s Café Society (TheUpcoming.uk Photo and Caption)

The above being said, and an argument for Ben’s return to religion in the face of death aside, the film does depict that people often pine for the comfort of what they once had; like Bobby, they often reach out for it (à la New York City) or them (à la the return of Vonnie) when they get the chance.

Bobby’s journey to escape his family’s jewellery business is framed between their New York City life, Phil’s wealthy lifestyle in Hollywood and Ben’s foray into the nightclub business in New York City. That said, the film depicts the social rise of Bobby, Vonnie and Ben (including his death) without losing sight of Bobby and Vonnie.

Vonnie does decide to marry Phil at the expense of Bobby’s feelings. Ben does choose to steal his way away from his father’s intermittently-employed life. Evelyn does opt to have her neighbour intimidated for her own comfort. Even Bobby chooses to get by on his connections with Phil, Parker Posey and Paul Schneider’s Rad and Steve Taylor. Everyone’s getting by because of whom they know.

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(from foreground to background) Star Kristen Stewart and director/screenwriter Woody Allen at the 2016 Cannes International Film Festival for 2016’s Café Society (Zimbio.com Photo and Caption)

That being said, the film does end with Bobby and Vonnie, seemingly, at peace with being away from each other, as said by Vonnie in ‘if you didn’t make it, the way you wanted to make it, you’d be resentful’, as the film ends on New Year’s Day.

Very simplistically, 2016’s Café Society is as self-aware, smoothly-edited and, for want of less verbosity or cliché, and complete from title card to title card as you’d like a Woody Allen film to be. It is worth watching for newcomers to the director/screenwriter’s style and its self-aware take on a man’s journey through love and profession.

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Director/screenwriter Woody Allen poses,during a photo call for 2016’s Café Society, at the 69th Cannes International film festival (Thibault Camus/AP Photo and Caption via Fortune.com)

Director Woody Allen’s Trademarks in 2016’s Café Society:

  1. Several master shots throughout the film: The opening scene with Phil Stern at the party is one such example of a master shot which characters walk in and out of.
  2. A warm, autumnal colour palette: The majority of 2016’s Café Society uses wood-hued colours to convey a feeling of warmth and wealth.
  3. Protagonists that are at odds with their environment: Bobby is at odds with his life in New York and his later career in Los Angeles; he later returns to New York.
  4. The looming presence of death: Bobby’s brother, Ben, is often shown killing other gangsters or citizens as a part of his work.
  5. Allusions to the struggling artist: Vonnie originally wanted to be an actress but quit to become Phil’s secretary.

As always, please let us know which of director Allen’s trademarks you find in 2016’s Café Society. Thank you.

(Whilst the opinions and observations cited above are, unless stated otherwise, the author’s own, the following sources were used for information: IMDb.com, MaryEllenMark.com, MyJewishLearning.com, RogerEbert.com, SensesOfCinema.com, TheDissolve.com)

The Reverse-Screenwriters’ Club (Spoilers Ensue):

Prologue: Hollywood agent Phil Stern’s lifestyle is introduced via voiceover.

Act 1: Bobby decides to travel to Hollywood; Bobby decides to visit Phil, albeit unsuccessfully.

Act 2: Bobby decides to keep visiting Phil’s office until he meets him; Bobby decides to phone home.

Act 3: Bobby decides to call for company to his motel room; Bobby decides to refuse her services.

Act 4: Bobby decides to visit Phil’s office again; Bobby decides to greet Vonnie.

Act 5: Bobby and Vonnie decide to explore the city; Bobby decides to start working for Phil.

Act 6: Bobby and Vonnie decide to spend more time together; Bobby decides to attend Phil’s brunch.

Act 7: Bobby decides to accept his promotion at Phil’s office; Bobby decides to ask Vonnie out for dinner.

Act 8: Bobby decides to let Vonnie postpone their dinner; Bobby later decides to receive Vonnie at home regardless.

Act 9: Bobby and Vonnie decide to spend more time together; Bobby decides to propose to Vonnie and return to New York with him.

Act 10: Bobby decides to reveal his love for Vonnie to Phil; Bobby decides to reveal Phil’s decision to leave his wife to Vonnie.

Act 11: Bobby decides to confess his marriage proposal to Vonnie to Phil; Bobby decides to confront her over her feelings for Phil.

Act 12: Bobby decides to return to New York alone; Bobby decides to help his brother, Ben, run a nightclub.

Act 13: Bobby decides to meet Veronica at the nightclub; Bobby eventually decides to propose to Veronica.

Act 14: Bobby decides to meet the visiting Phil and Vonnie in the nightclub; Bobby confronts Vonnie over her new persona.

Act 15: Bobby decides to have lunch with Vonnie; Bobby and Vonnie decide to spend more time together.

Act 16: Bobby decides to return to Hollywood for business; Bobby and Vonnie decide to have dinner together.

Act 17: Bobby decides to return to New York City; Bobby decides to attend the New Year’s Eve celebrations with Veronica.

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