"Woody Allen is back” “The best Woody Allen movie since, insert a Woody Allen movie you liked usually from the 80s” is what I keep hearing and reading about Blue Jasmine, the new movie from the above mentioned movie mogul. To me, however, there is little that Woody Allen can do wrong and even duds like You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger or the embarrassing Whatever Works, can be forgiven when there are Manhattan, Bananas, Bullets over Broadway, Melinda and Melinda, I can go on. Note that I didn't mention Annie Hall.
Let me be clear, Blue Jasmine is an excellent movie, indeed one of the greater Woody Allen movies, but so were Match Point, Cassandra’s Dream (to be fair, I think I'm the only one who liked this movie, particularly in the UK) Vicky Christina Barcelona and has everyone forgot the critical gushing over the excellent Midnight in Paris only two years ago? Statistically, when a moviemaker is as productive and plentiful as Woody Allen is, there’s a chance not all movies would be to everyone’s liking. As the man himself said in the recent documentary about him, he goes for quantity rather than the quality with the hope that out of many movies at least a few will be good, by his standards. More than a few have been excellent by my standards.
But whether his movies are brilliant or weak the way he makes them has always been one of the main reasons I have and always will admire the man. He started out funding his own movies from money he made from stand up and acting and he has become an independent voice separated from the rest of the American movie industry. Even now, working within “the system” he never pay star rates and yet they all want to be in his movies, and if America won’t give him money for his movies, he would and has gone to the many European countries that would. It is as if Hollywood can’t touch him and if the movie business would suddenly ceases to exist, Woody Allen will find a way to make his movies no matter what. Such an innate commitment to moviemaking is awe inspiring in itself.
So what makes Blue Jasmine so much better than other Allen movies in the eyes of others? Perhaps it is the deviation from his more cheerful comedies to a sadder kind of movie. Or maybe it is the echoes of Streetcar Named Desire that give Blue Jasmine some kind of an intellectual seal of approval. Whatever the reason is, it seems that Blue Jasmine has brought back the love for Woody Allen and that is always a good thing.
In a welcomed departure from the breathy speaking Gabriel in the never-ending and forever tiresome Lord of the Ring movies, Cate Blanchett in her most superb performance yet in my opinion (yes, better than her Katharine Hupburn), plays Jasmine, a New York high society woman who loses everything, including her mind, after her husband was revealed as a rotten crook and then commits suicide in jail. Now Jasmine is forced to move in with her sister Ginger (lovely Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco and start over. Whenever Woody Allen movies in an American city that isn’t Manhattan, it feels strange almost less present, unlike his movies in European cities that always marvel at them, San Francisco feels almost out of place, as I presume Allen feels.
Blanchett becomes the obligatory Woody Allen character when he is not in the movie, but she is the sadder version of this character, like Terry (Colin Farrell) in Cassandra's Dream. There are not enough adjectives to describe just how amazing Blanchett is as the heartbreaking and blue Jasmine. The supporting cast doesn't fall behind either. Alec Baldwin is wonderful as the devilishly handsome Hal, Jasmine’s former husband, Sally Hawkins, lovely as always, is Ginger, Jasmine’s less successful sister and Bobby Cannavale beautifully draws from Marlon Brando’s Stanley, in his portrayal of rough on the outside soft on the inside, blue collar boyfriend of Ginger, Chili. Sprinkled with great appearances from Louis CK (Am I the only one who thinks CK and Hawkins should be together in real life?), Peter Sarsgaard and Michael Stuhlbarg as the creepy Dr. Flicker.
Desperate to bury the past, but incapable of letting go, Jasmine’s mental decline is heartbreaking and tragic. And while the Streetcar Named Desire resonance is loud and clear, I found Blue Jasmine also a little bit reminiscent of Cassandra’s Dream, where Terry’s (Farrell) mental decline takes a similar form, talking to one self, as that of Jasmine as well as the money issue, which has been a theme in several Woody Allen movies. While the reason for Terry’s breakdown is clear, the cause of Jasmine’s deterioration is revealed more subtly and slowly. Cassandra’s Dream relates to Crime and Punishment and Greek tragedy and therefore the plot is at its centre. We only hear of Terry’s talking to himself from his girlfriend (also Sally Hawkins), Blue Jasmine’s connection with Streetcar Named Desire, puts the title character and her mental state at its centre and Jasmine’s sudden drift into a weird self-talking monologues is uncomfortable as well as compelling.
There were some parts in Blue Jasmine where I couldn't help wondering whether there was also some personal Woody Allen element to the movie in relation to his famous ex-wife Mia Farrow. Not that Jasmine is Mia, but she was an extreme version of women Farrow played in the past Allen movies, and the several comments on adoption made in the movie, Jasmine and Ginger are both adopted, Jasmine adopted a child and there are other mentions of adoption throughout the movie, I admit, tickled my nosey gossipy mind. Only I have to say, while I love Mia Farrow, Cate Blanchett is the better actress and perhaps not being involved with her director helps.
With a brilliantly simple and breezy storytelling, Blue Jasmine is yet another beautiful movie to add to the evergrowing wonderful Woody Allen movies, Blue Jasmine is the kind of movie that makes going to the movies all the more joyous.
Blue Jasmine opens at cinemas on Friday September 27