Woody Allen's sexist society

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Cafe Society (M). Director: Woody Allen. Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Anna Camp, Blake Lively. 97 minutes

Perhaps it is the high egocentricity of Woody Allen's films (he serves as narrator here) that makes it difficult to separate the man from his work. More so even than Roman Polanski, the allegations of sexual abuse that have been levelled at Allen in life lend an unsavoury flavour to his art. Even revisiting Annie Hall these days, Allen's classic and endlessly innovative 1977 romantic comedy is tainted retrospectively by a sneaking sense of sexism, if not outright misogyny.

Early in Café Society, Allen's protagonist, Bobby (Eisenberg) — a lonely blue-collar New Yorker recently arrived in Hollywood in the 1930s — hesitantly enlists the services of a prostitute, Candy (Camp). Candy, however, is running late, and by the time she arrives, for Bobby the mood has passed. We are then subject to long, incredulous minutes of Candy weeping and begging Bobby to sleep with her, while he attempts to simply pay and dismiss her.

Kristen Stewart in Cafe SocietyPresumably, the scene is intended to be darkly comic, and to paint Bobby as a basically romantic creature, for whom sex is not an end in itself but necessarily an expression of intimacy. But the scene leaves a sour taste. Struggling, would-be actress Candy never features again — she's summoned from the margins to serve the development of Bobby's character, then shifted back to the margins, out of sight and out of mind. It is emblematic of the film's attitude to its female characters.

Bobby is in love with Vonnie (Stewart), the secretary of his Hollywood bigwig uncle Phil (Carell). Vonnie is drawn to Bobby too, sharing with him a cynicism towards the superficial glamour of Hollywood. The problem is she is also engaged in an affair with her much older, married boss, Bobby's uncle. That this young, strong, freethinking woman might love not one but both of these schmucky, self-involved men beggars belief. But this is a Woody Allen film after all.

The comedic and dramatic implications of this awkward love triangle unfold against a lusciously recreated 1930s Los Angeles and New York. The film's tone is light and farcical, and the performances wonderful. But the laughs are few and far between, as the sour taste persists. Later, we are invited to feel sorry for Bobby as he becomes 'stuck' in a marriage to a woman (Lively) who is not his Vonnie. As a rumination on regret and unrequited love it is troubling indeed.

 


Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is acting editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Tim Kroenert, Cafe Society, Woody Allen, Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Blake Lively

 

 

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Existing comments

Your review is one of the worst I've seen. You are more interested in commenting on Allen's personal life than reviewing the film. Surely as a journalist you should try to be objective.
david roberts | 26 October 2016


Woody Allen has created some of the strongest and deepest female characters in current films - with many actresses there to confirm this and be grateful for the opportunities to flesh out these roles. "Troubling indeed" is your selection of this one character/situation, which is more revealing of your preconceptions and judgements than the suggested "sexism" of the click-bait article title.
MrXander | 27 October 2016


On the issue of a person's private life versus their creative output you have to take a considered view. Some of our greatest poets ,artists , musicians and film producers have had questionable private lives. Yet they have achieved insightful works. Sometimes you just have to be aware of the deficiencies in the characters and the lifestyles portrayed ,resolve to be a bit more responsible yourself and tell it for what it is(just as you have done).And above all not lose your sense of humor in regards to Allen's Jewish wit. Tim, I laughed at Woody's Cafe Society. After all it was Woody and I knew I'd be in for more of his same. Thanks though for highlighting in your Usual careful way things to note. .love and look forward to your reviews.
Celia | 27 October 2016


A below par review, quite an immature one.
Tarak | 27 October 2016


Thank you, Tim. I've enjoyed most of Woody Allen's films, and I'll always want to see the next one; but I've also often had an uncomfortable feeling about his female characters. Thank you for providing the words that help me understand this feeling.
Joan Seymour | 27 October 2016


I never ever watch the work of someone in a relationship with his adopted daughter. This is my personal stand.
Pauline Small | 27 October 2016


This is a well-crafted and produced movie that is visually interesting. However, its bland portrayal of Hollywood's inner soul made this a disturbing and less than comedic experience for me.
Bill Rush | 28 October 2016


I, also, have great trouble with Woody Allen. I saw some of his early movies (before all the drama came out) and I could not for the life of me see the comedic genius I was always told about. It never ceases to amaze me and angers me that people continue to laud him and his films. In my view he should be totally ignored.
Tracey Sinclair | 16 November 2016


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