By Xuan Truong
Woody Allen opens the curtain once again to unveil his latest work, “Café Society.” He takes us back into a world filled with jazz, expensive wines, and wealthy socialites set against the backdrop of the raging ‘30s.
“Café Society” is the product of Allen’s finest cinematography, with a blend of vibrant colors and brilliant composition that create a dazzling mask. But behind the mask lies something much darker.
Enter Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg), a young Jewish man from the slums of New York City who arrives at the gates of Hollywood to seek work under his wealthy Uncle Phil (Steve Carrell).
There, he is thrust into a world of unrequited love, dangerous secrets and fiery passions as he falls head-over-heels for Phil’s secretary, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart). Eventually, Vonnie loves him back, but it is a bittersweet romance—Uncle Phil is also in love with her.
Through the eyes of Bobby, we see the elite society of Hollywood. The people are well-dressed and sophisticated. The scenes are painted with warm colors and bright lights, which makes life for the rich seem colorful and jubilant.
It looks very different from his old neighborhood back home in the Bronx, which is a crime-ridden, dirty place. Allen’s use of natural lighting and shadow, and lethargic pacing along with cynical dialogue, forms a dull depiction of Bobby’s middle-class life.
The contrast between the two social classes is merely a facade to hide the true face of the upper class. Their lifestyle is shown as more whimsical compared to the simple life of the poor, with a quick-paced, upbeat flow from one scene to the next. Even the dialogue between rich characters is more witty.
However, despite the grandeur of the scenes and the swinging jazz music, behind the exterior is a culture of shallow romance, twisted scandal and depraved morals. In Hollywood, Bobby discovers a world where men toss away their wives for younger women and affairs are common among married couples.
Soon, Bobby and Vonnie become corrupted by the culture, abandoning everything they once believed. The middle class may not be as stylistically appealing as the wealthy circles they run in, but the morals and values that come with living modestly are portrayed as deeply profound and genuine.
Sparkling cinematography and beautiful set design cannot make up for the lack of a strong plot. None of the characters felt multidimensional or sympathetic, and what starts as a witty critique of Old Hollywood soon gives way to a cynical tale. Allen’s obsessions with young women and old world notions feel hopelessly out of touch in this movie.