By: Greg Maier
Well it must be that time of the year again. Summer is just winding down and fall is fast approaching as the season rolls through the calendar like clockwork. Just as every year the heat turns to cold and the leaves fall off the trees, master American film auteur Woody Allen is also back again with another film he has both written and directed (the forty-eighth of his career). When I say Woody is doing this like clockwork, I am not pulling any punches. The once stand-up legend of one-liners set his sights on the motion picture business in the 1960’s and never gave it a second thought again. In fact, he has made one movie nearly every year since the early 70’s. His latest picture, Blue Jasmine, is a refreshing change of pace from last year’s To Rome With Love which, though it had it’s moments, fell far short of what we’ve seen Woody to be capable of making. On the other hand Blue Jasmine, Woody’s first film shot in the U.S. since 2009’s Whatever Works, brings the writer/director back to America with a movie that is a more dramatic and character focused form of storytelling compared to his recent work where the comedy and the setting takes center stage.
Blue Jasmine staring Cate Blanchett (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, 2008), follows the decent into madness of an eccentric pill popping and vodka drinking upper class New York wife of a rich Bernie Madoff type played by Alec Baldwin (The Departed, 2006). After her husband lands in prison for his white collar crimes and eventually commits suicide, Jasmine has nowhere to turn except family as she packs up her two remaining Louis Vuitton suitcases and flies her dead broke delusional self first class to San Francisco where she moves in with her sister Ginger played by Sally Hawkis (Cassandra’s Dream, 2007). Jasmine is so delusional in fact, that the rich Hampton part of her story is told entirely in a series of flashbacks she has while living in San Francisco where innocent bystanders become witness to her confused and mentally unstable mutterings as she literally sits in a trance talking to herself.
Blanchett delivers a most memorable performance in the title role that is certain to bring her a Best Actress nomination at this year’s Academy Awards. Sitting in the theater, I could almost feel myself falling down the dark hole Jasmine plummets herself into and the films final scene, done in one continuous classic Woody Allen style long take, shows the true brilliance Cate brought to her performance. I could not imagine anyone else playing the role and hope that this won’t be the last time Woody and Cate collaborate as he has had several muses over his long career (Diane Keaton, Mia Farrow, Scarlett Johansson). Rounding out what is surely one of this year’s most intriguing casts are sand up comedians Louis C.K. and Andrew Dice Clay, as well as HBO series regulars Michael Stuhlbarg and Bobby Cannavale (Boardwalk Empire).
What struck me most about Blue Jasmine was the heavy and sadistic tone of realism present in the story. An average moviegoer usually wants to see a film that both feels truthful, but also delivers a happy resolve by its end. Blue Jasmine does not fall under this classification by any means as it is a much more honest reflection on today’s society then the stuff of cliché Hollywood movie magic. I am reminded of Woody’s more bittersweet films like The Purple Rose of Cairo, Manhattan and Annie Hall which I always have found to be among the most meaningful works in his greatly diverse filmography. The great thing about Woody Allen is that he never gives up, even if last year’s picture was a complete mess, he just brushes it off and moves on to the next one. Whether you like his films or hate them, whether you love Woody or you don’t, there is no denying the impact he has had on not only American cinema, but the world of movies at large. I personally cannot wait for whatever story he wants to tell us next; this must be the mark of a really great artist.