“Fame is fleeting. Obscurity is forever.” So observed Napoleon Bonaparte two hundred years ago, and it still maintains a certain véracité. In politics, in business and — especially — in Hollywood.

The movie industry worships new. And, no business eats its young (the moment its young is no longer young) quite as fast or with quite the same appetite.

One Hollywood director who, despite celebrating his 80th birthday, has never lapsed into obscurity is Woody Allen. Allen, at times accused of having a Napoleon Complex (short of stature, large of ego), has written and directed more than 50 films in about as many years. They’ve ranged from smart urban comedies (Manhattan; Annie Hall) to lush travelogues (Midnight in Paris; Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona), literary spoofs (A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy; Love and Death) to cinematic masterpieces (Hannah and Her Sisters; Blue Jasmine. His fans can pretty much count on a new movie every year.

This year’s Café Society is fairly lightweight as Allen’s movies go, but it’s simply lovely.

Café Society begins and ends like a fairy tale. Once upon a time — that time being the glamorous 1930s — an earnest young man travels from his gritty neighborhood in New York to glittering Southern California. There, he meets a beautiful young woman who has been enchanted by an older (and married) industry wizard. Although the couple is in love, the young man can’t break the evil spell and returns home heartbroken to build his own magical jazz-age kingdom, marry a princess, and live wistfully ever after.

If the story sounds simple, it is. There are moments of Allen’s philosophical musings: “Life is a comedy written by a sadistic comedy writer;” “Unrequited love kills more people than tuberculosis;” and “The unexamined life is not worth living. But the examined one is no bargain either.” But nothing very weighty. Café Society isn’t going to rock your world, but it’s a nice way to spend an evening and makes a very pretty picture.

Throughout the story, we’re treated to satisfying period details, overflowing cocktails, silver screen name-dropping, sumptuous sets and costumes, a generous helping of mobsters and the self-conscious, self-deprecating inner monologues (spoken aloud, of course) that have become synonymous with Woody Allen and his work. We’re also served up a number of strong female characters brought to life through wonderful performances by an age-diverse group of actresses. Allen’s relationship with women continues to thrive — onscreen at least.

Off-screen, of course, Allen has faced scrutiny, criticism and scandal in his personal relationships. He notoriously courted and married Soon-Yi Previn, the grown daughter of his ex-partner Mia Farrow, and was accused by Farrow (although charges were dismissed after a police probe) of molesting their adopted daughter when the child was seven. These events have caused many feminists to boycott Allen’s films despite the fact that he maintains an excellent track record of encouraging award-worthy work from his leading ladies.

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  • Gail Willis August 11, 2016 at 1:50 am

    This almost perfectly mirrors my reaction to this film. Not sorry I saw it; many parts I liked. Overall not my favorite, but still better than almost anything out there this summer. In spite of (or maybe because of) his picadillos I am a fan. Midnight in Paris caused us to re-order a vacation plan & fly to Paris for a short but memorable interlude. A bigger vote for this summer’s film offerings – Maggie’s Plan! Almost a perfect feminist response to most rom cons!

    Reply
  • Alexandra MacAaron August 10, 2016 at 11:39 am

    From Author:

    Thanks for sharing your concerns, Noelle. Woody Allen has certainly faced controversy. I did address both the Soon-Yi marriage and the accusation about his daughter in my story. Soon-Yi was an adult when he began the relationship and she was never his child (she was the adopted daughter of Mia Farrow and Andre Previn). The accusations Farrow made about Allen molesting their daughter Dylan were discredited by a police investigation. Farrow’s supporters (naturally) think he’s guilty. Allen’s supporters believe that Farrow fabricated the tale because she was angry about his relationship with Soon-Yi. Regardless, he was officially exonerated.

    Your other point about his depiction of women is one that has been raised before. But, opinions vary. His actresses, for example, disagree — and he has directed more Oscar-nominated and winning women than any other director, including Diane Keaton (winner, Annie Hall), Geraldine Page, Maureen Stapleton, Mariel Hemingway, Dianne Weist (who won for 2 Allen films: Hannah and Her Sisters and Bullets Over Broadway), Judy Davis, Jennifer Tilly, Mira Sorvino (winner, Mighty Aphrodite), Samantha Morton, Penelope Cruz (Winner, Vicky Cristina Barcelona), Cate Blanchett (winner Blue Jasmine), and Sally Hawkins. Apparently the Academy sees no problem with his depictions of women.

    As far as the law is concerned, Allen has committed no crimes (falling in love with his ex-partner’s grown daughter is creepy but not unlawful and I personally do not believe he ever molested a child). I realize that some of our readers choose to boycott Allen’s movies, and that is absolutely their prerogative. But, I also think that his films appeal to mature women more than many of the options out there today. That’s why we continue to review them.

    Reply
  • Stacia Friedman August 9, 2016 at 11:31 am

    I agree. I was delighted by Woody Allen’s locations that captured the glamour and romance of LA & NYC in the 1930s, along fabulous costumes and a superb soundtrack. Did the plot make sense? Who cares! Pour me another!

    Reply
  • Noelle August 9, 2016 at 9:53 am

    This is a site called Women’s Voices for Change yet you’re reviewing (promoting) a film by a filmmaker that has most likely committed acts of sexual aggression against a female minor. Also, most of his movies have puerile or hysteric depictions of women. Please consider whose films you are showcasing on a site devoted to women’s voices.

    Reply
  • Andrea August 9, 2016 at 8:57 am

    Another great film suggestion for a very hot summer afternoon. Thanks Alexandra!

    Reply