Directed by Woody Allen
For as long as I can remember, each passing year has been marked by “the new Woody Allen movie.” Like a Christmas in July (not the Sturges), it comes with wild hopes of an ideal surprise, that someone will know you better than you know yourself. But also like that family holiday (at least since Deconstructing Harry), you brace yourself for disappointment, embarrassment, and a few laughs to offset the sad reminders of your own eventual demise. Allen has been working on his “late films” for at least 15 years. So that his latest film, Blue Jasmine, is a return to gnarly, emotional 80s Allen is a welcome surprise.
It stars Cate Blanchett as the titular character, born Jeanette and then self-created as Jasmine, the wife of an indulgent, dodgy finance baron played by Alec Baldwin. In a rare nod to current events in an Allen movie, it turns out Baldwin is a crook; both he and his wife lose everything in a huge public downfall. So Jasmine travels west to San Francisco to move in with her guileless sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), who works as a checkout person at a grocery store and was once married to a contractor played by Andrew Dice Clay.
Allen hasn’t set a film in California since the memorable Christmas-in-LA bit from Annie Hall. So it’s unnerving that Allen’s San Francisco seems as if it’s across the Hudson, filled with Guidos with Jersey accents instead of smug foodies and goofy tech billionaires. But nevermind; Woody’s cities have always been as much a harmless fantasy as Lubitsch’s Paris. (Except instead of Paramount footing the bill, it’s whatever city is willing to fork over a production grant.)
While he shoots San Francisco as if he’s never stepped foot there, he does nail the weird privileged bubble of Marin County–where George Lucas built Industrial Light & Magic and where Fleetwood Mac recorded Rumours. Jasmine and her sister each meet love interests here, respectively an aspiring politician and an audio guy played by Louis C.K. who perfects the excited, entitled and totally down vibe of the Bay Area (and Marin County in particular). His is the best and the briefest star performance in the film.
Blanchett is also good, even breathtaking at times as the shrill narcissist falling apart. (And thank goodness that Allen has updated his pill-popping neurotic references from Valium to Xanax.) She is at times too theatrical, though, and seems as if she’s performing a monologue final exam in Woody Allen Women 101. However, it’s excusable in this character who is herself performing, and whose self-delusions and stories have finally been worn threadbare. In a brief, revealing scene she replies lucidly to her nephews, when they ask if it’s true she went crazy, that there are only so many traumas one person can bear.
Toward the end, it seems clear that Jasmine isn’t a version of Ruth Madoff, and that the entire plot of lost fortune is a red herring. The film is instead a complex, weighty view of a woman who is in a crisis of self-flagellation after living in denial for years. It’s about the guilt, trauma and retribution of finally accepting the obvious. And I think it’s his first film dealing head on with the aftermath of the Mia Farrow breakup. There were obvious signs of the problems to come years before their split, clear to anyone who has read Farrow’s autobiography. Yet his cold analysis of this character’s denial is presented with a fascinating artistic remove, accurate yet with no self-implication. So it makes sense that this film feels like a return to form of his great films of the 80s, because that’s when he was dating Farrow.
Opens July 26