There is much to discuss (over a bagel perhaps?) concerning Woody Allen's Cafe Society (maybe with some champagne?). First things first. You should know that:
· The film's gorgeous aura coupled with a fine cast makes Cafe Society, Allen's 49th feature, worth the price of full admission.
· Allen himself is back, not as a character but as narrator, giving the film a welcome lilt.
· Of the 17 feature films that Allen has written/directed since 2000, this would rank as among his best (along with Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine).
· Allen continues to write strong dialogue for second- and even third-tier characters, something sorely absent from many screenwriters.
· Top-drawer talent, aching to put a Woody Allen film on their resume, are still drawn to his projects. This time around, we have Steve Carell, Kristen Stewart and a particularly luminous performance from Blake Lively who, in a rather small role, nearly outshines everyone.
The news behind the scenes of the kingdom of Heywood (yes, that's Mr. Allen's first name) is not as lovely as many of his films.
"If you're filing an [interview] with Blake Lively that asks who she's wearing but not why she worked with an alleged child molester, it might be time for some soul-searching," wrote Allen's son Ronan Farrow on May 11, taking the press to task for continually separating his father the Oscar winning film director from his father the "molester."
It is not new information—but remains chilling—that Allen was accused of the sexual abuse of his step-daughter, Dylan Farrow, in 1992, but the New York Court of Appeals ruled the sex charges were inconclusive. Farrow, brother of the alleged victim and now an NBC News reporter, says the lack of a conviction against Allen "is not an excuse for the press to silence victims [and] to never interrogate allegations."
The issue of Allen's creepiness is front-and-center in Cafe Society when, 25 minutes into the film, a familiar plot twist surfaces: an age-inappropriate sexual relationship between a much-older Hollywood agent (Carell) and his subordinate (Stewart). In an even darker twist, a marriage later in the film places the requisite Allen neurotic (Jesse Eisenberg) in a star-crossed, adulterous romance with his own aunt.
Hints of incest aside, the theme of old man-in-love-with-young-woman has surfaced repeatedly in Allen's work, but that transparency has somehow emboldened him to continually visit Creep Town.
"Actors, including some I admire greatly, continue to line up to star in his movies. 'It's not personal,' one once told me," wrote Farrow, who is also the son of Allen's former love interest Mia Farrow and brother to Allen's current wife, Soon-Yi Previn, whom the now-estranged couple adopted in 1978. "But it hurts my sister every time one of her heroes like Louis C.K. [co-star in Blue Jasmine] or a star her age, like Miley Cyrus [starring in Allen's next project], works with Woody Allen. Personal is exactly what it is—for my sister and for women everywhere with allegations of sexual assault that have never been vindicated by a conviction."
Many of Hollywood's best performers have treaded lightly when it comes to the scandal that has dogged the filmmaker.
"It's obviously been a long and painful situation for the family, and I hope they find some sort of resolution and peace," said Cate Blanchett, who won the Best Actress Oscar for her work in Blue Jasmine.
"I have nothing to say about that, except, I believe my friend," said Diane Keaton, who won an Oscar for Allen's Annie Hall.
"I don't have to think too hard about working with Woody Allen," said Colin Firth, who appeared in Allen's Magic in the Moonlight.
"My experience with Woody is: he's empowering to women," Blake Lively told the Los Angeles Times on her work in Cafe Society.
Meanwhile, Amazon is doubling-down on the director. After bankrolling a reported sum of $20 million to secure the exclusive rights to Cafe Society—a major gamble for the online juggernaut—Amazon announced earlier this month that it would play a staggering $25 million to distribute Allen's next project, sight unseen.
Farrow says an uncomfortable alliance among Hollywood's elite, distributors such as Amazon and entertainment media, which won't ask the hard questions, is troubling.
"That kind of silence isn't just wrong. It's dangerous," said Farrow. "It sends a message to victims that it's not worth the anguish of coming forward."
For the record, Cafe Society is a lovely film. But to separate the art from the artist is an art of deception.