Café Society (2016 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Woody Allen|
|Written by||Woody Allen|
|Narrated by||Woody Allen|
|Edited by||Alisa Lepselter|
|Box office||$43.8 million|
Café Society is a 2016 American romantic comedy-drama film written and directed by Woody Allen. It stars Jeannie Berlin, Steve Carell, Jesse Eisenberg, Blake Lively, Parker Posey, Kristen Stewart, Corey Stoll, and Ken Stott. The plot follows a young man who moves to 1930s Hollywood, where he falls in love with the assistant to his uncle, a powerful talent agent.
The film had its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on May 11, 2016 and was theatrically released in the United States on July 15, 2016, by Amazon Studios and Lionsgate. It received generally positive reviews and grossed $43 million.
Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) is the youngest son of a Jewish family in New York City in the 1930s; his elder sister Evelyn is a married school teacher, while his elder brother Ben is a gangster. Discontented with working for his father, a jeweler, Bobby decides to move to Hollywood, where he takes a job running menial errands for his uncle Phil (Steve Carell), a powerhouse talent agent.
Phil introduces Bobby to his secretary Veronica, nicknamed Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), who is tasked with helping Bobby settle into Hollywood. Bobby is drawn to her unpretentiousness as opposed to most young women living in Hollywood, and falls deeply in love with her. She rebuffs his advances, telling him she has a journalist boyfriend named Doug. In reality, "Doug" is Phil, with whom Vonnie is carrying on an illicit romance; he promises to divorce his wife and marry her.
On the first-year "paper anniversary" of their affair, Vonnie gives Phil a letter written and signed by Rudolph Valentino as a gift. However, Phil proceeds to tell her that he is incapable of divorcing his wife, so he ends the affair. Vonnie subsequently surrenders to Bobby's love for her and their friendship turns into a romance.
A forlorn Phil confides in Bobby about his affair—without naming his mistress—before telling him he has determined to divorce his wife. Bobby passingly mentions his relationship with Vonnie and his intention to marry her and return to New York. Phil begins petitioning Vonnie privately to leave Bobby and marry him instead.
While having a conversation with Phil in his office, Bobby notices the Valentino letter. Recognizing it from Vonnie's account about her breakup with "Doug", he confronts her and asks her to choose between himself and Phil. Vonnie chooses Phil.
A heartbroken Bobby returns to New York City where he begins to run a high-end nightclub with his gangster brother, Ben (Corey Stoll). It soon becomes a famous hangout for the rich and powerful, from politicians to gangsters. Bobby meets divorcée Veronica Hayes (Blake Lively) at the nightclub, and they begin dating, soon getting married and starting a family together.
On an extended visit to New York, a happily married Phil and Vonnie stop at the nightclub and insist on seeing Bobby. Vonnie has become a pretentious name-dropper and Bobby is at first repulsed by her. However, he agrees to show her around New York—as she had once done for him in Hollywood. They spend an evening without Phil, visiting Bobby's favorite haunts and, as dawn breaks over Central Park, share a kiss; but it's clear that it can go no further.
Bobby's sister Evelyn (Sari Lennick) asks their brother, Ben, to "talk to" her disagreeable neighbor; Ben promptly kills him. He is arrested and convicted for murder and racketeering. Shortly before he goes to the electric chair, he converts to Christianity, mortifying his parents. His late brother's notoriety propels the nightclub to new heights, and Bobby travels to Los Angeles to contemplate opening a Hollywood version. He ultimately decides against it, but, before he leaves, he and Vonnie have lunch together, where she mentions that she and Phil will be returning to New York for a short visit. However, they both decide that it is better if they don't see each other.
Months later, on New Year's Eve, Bobby and Vonnie are apart—Bobby in New York City hosting festivities in his nightclub, and Vonnie with her husband at a Hollywood house party. As the new year is rung in, they both seem distant to their spouses, and both have a faraway look in their eyes.
- Jesse Eisenberg as Bobby Dorfman
- Kristen Stewart as Veronica "Vonnie" Sybil
- Steve Carell as Phil Stern
- Blake Lively as Veronica Hayes
- Parker Posey as Rad Taylor
- Corey Stoll as Ben Dorfman
- Jeannie Berlin as Rose Dorfman
- Ken Stott as Marty Dorfman
- Anna Camp as Candy
- Paul Schneider as Steve
- Sheryl Lee as Karen Stern
- Tony Sirico as Vito
- Stephen Kunken as Leonard
- Sari Lennick as Evelyn Dorfman
- Max Adler as Walt
- Don Stark as Sol
- Gregg Binkley as Mike
- Woody Allen as Narrator (voice)
By March 9, 2015, Jesse Eisenberg, Bruce Willis and Kristen Stewart were added to the cast of the Woody Allen film, which was produced by Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum and Edward Walson. On May 6, 2015, Blake Lively was cast, followed by Parker Posey in mid-July. By August 4, 2015, more cast was added, including Jeannie Berlin, Corey Stoll and Ken Stott, along with Anna Camp, Stephen Kunken, Sari Lennick and Paul Schneider. In August, Tony Sirico was cast and Max Adler had also joined the cast. Vittorio Storaro is the cinematographer.
On August 24, 2015, it was reported that Willis had exited the film due to his scheduling conflicts with the Broadway stage adaptation of the Stephen King novel Misery. On August 28, 2015, Steve Carell was cast to replace Willis. In March 2016, the title was confirmed as Café Society.
Principal photography on the film began on August 17, 2015 in and around Los Angeles. On September 8, 2015, filming moved to New York City, where it was shot in Brooklyn. Allen moved to digital for the first time, using a Sony CineAlta F65 camera for this, his 47th film.
The film began with a budget of $18 million, however went over and by the end of production reached $30 million, making it one of the most expensive films of Allen's career.
In February 2016, Amazon Studios acquired distribution rights to the film. In March 2016, the film was selected to open the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. The film also opened the Seattle International Film Festival, on May 19, 2016, and served as the closing night film of the Karlovy Vary Film Festival. It was announced that Lionsgate would team up with Amazon to release the film, on August 12, 2016. It was then moved up to July 15, 2016, in a limited release, before expanding to July 22 and opening wide on August 5.
Café Society grossed $11.1 million in the United States and Canada and $32.7 million in other countries, for a worldwide total of $43.8 million.
The film was released in five theaters on July 15, 2016 and grossed $359,289 in its opening weekend, an average per-theater gross of $71,858, the biggest average of 2016 to that point (its record was broken the following week by Don't Think Twice's $92,835 average). The film had its wide release on July 29 and grossed $2.3 million, finishing 12th at the box office.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 70% based on 240 reviews, with an average rating of 6.1/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Café Society's lovely visuals and charming performances round out a lightweight late-period Allen comedy whose genuine pleasures offset its amiable predictability." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 64 out of 100, based on 37 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Writing for New York, David Edelstein gave the film a positive review, stating: "Cafe Society is a surprisingly graceful work. It's a young man's tale of woe rendered with an old man's aversion to dawdling over what can't be helped, over questions of human nature that have long been settled to everyone's dissatisfaction. The worldview is weary, and Allen narrates in a voice that, for the first time, suggests his 80 years of age. But his touch lightens with each film, and the melancholy bubbles up from below and catches you off guard." Owen Gleiberman of Variety gave the film a mixed review, writing, "Café Society leaves you dreaming of the movie it might have been had Woody Allen made it by doing what he's done in his best work: nudging himself out of his comfort zone."
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