I had a number of observations watching Café Society, a few of which apply to a wide swath of the latter-era Woody Allen oeuvre:
1) Mapping as a Woody Allen thought experiment. You can think of any WA movie as any other WA movie mapped onto a [fill in the blank] setting. That is to say, it’s as if WA is thinking, “I want to make a movie with this setting, and that thematic element, how do I do it? Is this new movie going to be with cyborgs? CIA spies? No. This is going to be a Woody Allen picture, just set differently.”
As with Irrational Man, in the early going especially it can seem contrived. But then — quickly — it all begins to gel. I look forward to WA’s annual offering because of that special feeling you get with his films, but more broadly, it doesn’t matter if his latest film seems like a bit of a re-tread, a mapping of some other of his movies onto this year’s dinner table. With a WA film, you’re automatically guaranteed to be transported to a whole different ballpark, one that so many lesser filmmakers can only dream of entering. And that’s why he always attracts the biggest A-list stars.
2) Café Society, and so many of his films, are modern Shakespeare comedy. Were Shakespeare around today, I don’t think he would find a WA picture alien in the least. To my admittedly limited knowledge, Shakespeare did not engage in plots any more complicated than those of Woody Allen. And it’s a delight when things are kept just complicated enough. There’s no beating around the bush in Shakespeare, nor WA.
3) Jesse Eisenberg’s role seems like WA was writing a more confident version of himself. Eisenberg has got the WA mannerisms and way of speaking down pat.
4) I guessed that Harvey Keitel was the narrator — boy was I wrong. It’s Woody Allen himself! His voice was much deeper than I usually think of it.
I am often annoyed by narration in film, as with WA’s Vicky Christina Barcelona. But it works here.
5) There may be glitches here and there in WA’s mapping. For instance, “Thanks for the heads up” I believe to be an anachronism. Also, WA’s Jewish jokes seem a little out of place to me, which luckily doesn’t make them any less funny or effective. Just classic WA humor, no matter where it’s mapped.
6) Amazon Studios. An idea was posited that if Apple really wants to get serious about content creation, she should buy Netflix. I’m not sure about that idea, nor about the idea of Apple creating content. The Pixar lineage is there, though. Any case, I have mixed feelings. I suppose content creation is important, so if it makes sense, then as a stockholder I say go for it.
7) It all works. In the end, Woody Allen is quite brilliant, and that shines through even his lesser offerings. Café Society is fun and engaging, despite any glitches. 7/10