Woody Allen has been a constant force in films since he started making them, for nearly six decades. While he fluctuates tones and has created masterpieces in both comedy and drama (and some a pure fusion of both), his style is never misrepresented and both genres feel very ‘Woody Allen’ when all is said and done. In other words; you know a Woody Allen film when you see one. This is far from a bad thing, especially since Woody uses enough diversity in his tones, themes and subjects to create unique visions all their own. Sure, he’s had his repetitious moments, but overall he has more good than bad (the bad is sure to come when you make as many movies as Allen has) and has created a consistent career that is not only respected but beloved.
During the aughts, it was thought that Woody was reaching this point in his career where nothing was working as strongly or as fluidly as before. He was being criticized more than praised and his films just were not making the impact they did in the previous decades.
He was hitting a slump.
Then he put out ‘Match Point’ and the world cried “Woody Allen comeback” and he was back in the spotlight. ‘Scoop’ was a critical hiccup, but ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’ gave him more love, but it was 2011’s ‘Midnight in Paris’ that suddenly made Woody Allen relevant again. I, personally, didn’t think the movie was that wonderful (I do consider ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’ to be a modern masterpiece), but the world did not agree with me and Woody Allen once again found himself an Oscar winner.
With this year’s ‘Blue Jasmine’ he has done it again.
Is it just me, or does Woody Allen seem to be on a ‘good film/bad film’ kind of role here? Just a point of interest, or discussion, but this seems to be a pattern.
Anyways, let’s talk about ‘Blue Jasmine’.
|Blanchett + Allen = Brilliance!|
Now, ‘Blue Jasmine’ is not perfect, and it is far from Allen’s best work (it doesn’t hold a candle to ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’ or his 80’s work for that matter) but it holds a certain sense of importance and sheer engagement over the audience. Most of this is due to Cate Blanchett’s tour-de-force performance as the emotionally and mentally unstable Jasmine, but Woody’s biting wit and way with dialog certainly does it’s fair share of spellbinding.
The story is told in fragments as the action shifts from present to past and back again. We see Jasmine’s marriage and wealth unfold and crumble and then see her current state of wellness take a turn for the better, seemingly, as she tries to rebuild her life with her adopted sister Ginger.
On the one hand, we have the story of Jasmine’s marriage to wealthy businessman and philandering crook Hal. Jasmine is selfish, snooty and smothered in jewelry, furs and designer bags. Her husband sleeps with everything that moves, and does so under the ignorance (possibly intentional) of his doting wife. Behind the scenes, Hal is stealing money, and while others suspect it, Jasmine decides to ignore it.
We shoot forward to after Hal’s arrest, suicide and Jasmine’s destitution. She has no money and is forced to move in with her sister Ginger, who lives in San Francisco. The two have not been close for years, mainly due to Jasmine’s arrogance and refusal to embrace her sister and her seeming low standards. Jasmine hated her first husband, resented her lack of means and finds her sense of humor embarrassing. Now though, she needs to lean on someone. She moves in, which upsets Ginger’s boyfriend Chili (who was planning on moving in with her) and so he is quick to try and get Jasmine to move on with her life. The problem is, the stress has caused Jasmine to suffer a nervous breakdown and so her material loss is not her only obstacle.
|She is going crazy.|
There are no easy answers in ‘Blue Jasmine’. The finale doesn’t feel like a conclusion but more like a cliffhanger as we are left to wonder exactly where Jasmine is going to end up. Will she ever pull herself together? Will she ever find happiness? Is she destined to become a crazy park bench cat lady who talks to herself and is made fun of by passersby? While the film offer no easy answers, it does offer up a lot of easy (or maybe I should say ‘lazy’) observations. I have two criticisms of this film (just two) and this is the first one. All those claiming that ‘Fruitvale Station’ was too obvious really should watch this film and see what obvious is all about. The browbeating of ‘the grass is not always greener on the other side’ and ‘money is the root of all evil’ is VERY dominant here and it bleeds into every subplot. Making this all the more obvious is the stereotypical treatment of every man in the film (my second criticism). By giving no depth to Hal, Chili, Al, Dr. Flicker or Dwight (Augie is an exception), Woody Allen failed to completely flesh out his themes in a way that felt more than one-sided. I’ve had this issue with Allen before (my major complaint with ‘Husbands and Wives’ was that it felt completely one-sided and lacked shared responsibility).
Still, these complaints do not take away entirely from the film. They merely knock it down from a superb film to a merely great one.
Blanchett weaves through Allen’s dialog with so much ease, and she filters her emotional fluctuations with a brilliant sense of raw honesty. This is clearly one of her finest moments and it may be one of Allen’s greatest character creations as well. The fragility and hardness meld together into this explosive presence that one will not soon forget. Her monologues, her mental frailties, her hysterical breakdowns; all of them could have veered into camp and yet her handling of every moment feels so grounded in Woody’s themes and tones that she feels honest and relatable. You can believe her. Sally Hawkins is also stupendous here. She is the perfect counterbalance to Blanchett. She makes Ginger feel earnest and genuine in her concern and her growing insecurities and doubts. As Jasmine unloads judgment on her, she begins to question her life choices and you bite into every question in her eyes.
My only wish is that the sea of tremendous male talent was used to better effect. Alec Baldwin, Michael Stuhlbarg and Bobby Cannavale are mere caricatures. While it is nice to see Peter Sarsgaard step away from playing a sleazy jerk, he is given like three scenes and he’s swallowed by Blanchett in every one. Louis C.K. could have developed something special, but his screen time is also very limited. Andrew Dice Clay is the only man here to rise above and give us something that feels three dimensional. While his scenes are few, you can feel the earthy rawness of this man who is gruff on the outside yet extremely human underneath.
At the end of the day, I really enjoyed this despite my reservations. I wish that it hadn’t been so obvious in its message and yet, the good here outweighs the bad in my eyes.
I give this a solid B+. As far as Oscar is concerned, this could seriously be a giant hit. I think that Blanchett is not only locked for the nomination, but she is inches from the win. Unless Amy Adams proves to be unstoppable (and in the Best Picture winner) I don’t see Blanchett losing. I don’t see it stopping there either. Screenplay is a lock, and Best Picture isn’t out of the question. I also think that Sally Hawkins stands a chance here as a tag along nominee, especially if Blanchett rides a strong wave to victory. Hawkins is the perfect cypher for Blanchett’s crazy and she balances her out beautifully. I hope to see it happen.