Love Him or Hate Him, Woody Allen’s Ode to Nostalgia is Gorgeous
You can always count on recurring themes in a Woody Allen Film. He has a preoccupation with death — both fear and fascination; religion (and particularly, Judaism). He hates Hollywood, loves to test the waters with inappropriate age gaps in relationships; love triangles; neurotic, self-deprecating protagonists that are all versions of his Alter Ego…I would say he loves, love, but I think what he really loves is nostalgia — The hero’s journey is always shrouded in wistful longing for something that has come and gone.
Whatever your opinion of Woody Allen, the man, might be, Woody Allen, the artist, is a genius. Cafe Society is far from his greatest film (that would be a tie between “Annie Hall” and “Blue Jasmine”) but it isn’t his worst either. He struggles in every film to capture true vulnerability without a wink and a punch line. Where he excels, though, is making the minutiae interesting, and ironic truth a bit more palatable and palpable. Jane Austen was once quoted as saying (which awesomely made an appearance in the film “Becoming Jane”) “Irony is the bringing together of contradictory truths, to make out of the contradiction a new truth with a laugh or a smile.” That is Woody Allen in fine. The moral failings of his characters; their silenced desires and dreams — the viewer can relate on some level to every character and dilemma, which allows us to simultaneously judge and empathize. I never leave the theater without a pause for introspection.
At the heart of Cafe Society is a nebbish, neurotic hopeless romantic, Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) who never gets what he truly wants, which is the one who got away — Vonnie (Kristen Stewart). It just so happens that the one who got away is more or less similarly conflicted. The movie ends with a visually beautiful and powerful scene that captures the true essence of paradise lost.
What each character longs for is a piece of youthful passion and romance — a time when love was built on innocence and in-the-moment authenticity — and that’s the thing Allen leaves the audience to sort out on their own. Through the misadventures of his characters, we reminisce about our own pasts…because we all have them. We all have memories imprinted on us. It can be nice to reflect on the good ones sometimes, with a sobering acceptance that they exist in a place and time that can’t be replicated. There’s a great Dr. Seuss Quote that sums it up best: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”
That’s what I take away from “Cafe Society’s” ending. And also, that there’s a bit of hopefulness in never knowing what could have been with a youthful romance. Time and reality can be so woefully disappointing, anyway.