... Billy Wilder conferring with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine (in glorious black-&-white) on "The Apartment." The connection?
In the hugely entertaining and affectionate “Café Society,” his 52nd or 53rd film as a director (but who's counting?), Woody Allen addresses the element that has traditionally anchored Hollywood - the Jewish moguls, originally from the East Coast but fitfully transplanted to the sun-struck, intoxicating night-blooming Jasmine-scented environs of Los Angeles, who influenced (and lived through) the movies that they produced.
Driven by a dream cast, “Café Society” is another Allen original but one that comes with a teasing touch of déjà vu. But more about that later.
Jesse Eisenberg plays Bobby Dorfman, a nebbish who leaves 1930s New York for the land of Oz - Hollywood, where his Uncle Phil, played by chamelone Steve Carell, is a big-time agent-cum-producer who drops the names of stars like Ginger Rogers and may even hang out with them. Phil, his mother's brother, makes Bobby his gopher and puts him in the hands of his assistant, Vonnie - an ever-remarkable Kristen Stewart who looks absolutely fabulous in the vintage wardrobe by Suzy Benzinger.
This is where Allen stops and, in a major plot point, pays homage to Billy Wilder's "The Apartment." In Wilder's 1960 film, Jack Lemmon develops a crush on Shirley MacLaine, unaware that she is having an affair with his married boss, Fred MacMurray. Here, Eisenberg falls for Stewart, unaware that her character is having an affair with his married uncle.
In "The Apartment," a cracked mirror in a compact exposes the affair. In “Café Society," it's a piece of memorabilia - a love letter from Rudolph Valentino that Vonnie has given to Phil on the anniversary of their affair.