Two movie posts in a row?! I’m pretty sure that’s never happened before. It’s Saturday morning and I can’t stop thinking about the movie I saw last night, Blue Jasmine. Woody Allen makes a lot of movies — this is his 41st as writer/director. I go to see them all because I believe they’re all worth seeing at least once. If I don’t think one of them is great, I probably won’t see it again and I’ll just forget about it. The ones that are great, though, I will watch over and over and over again, year after year. It doesn’t bother me that Woody Allen’s movies are “uneven” in terms of their success, and if you’ve seen the excellent American Masters documentary about him, you know that doesn’t bother Woody, either. He’s already on to the next project by then, anyway. (If you’re a Woody fan, you need to see that documentary. PBS has it online.)
The laziest reviews of Woody Allen’s movies usually contain a sentence that starts out with, “In what may perhaps be Allen’s best film since _________,” but I think it’s a mistake to review one of his movies by comparing it to another. It’s not possible to rank his movies in that way. How can you quantify the greatness of movies like Annie Hall and Manhattan and Hannah and Her Sisters and Crimes and Misdemeanors (I could continue, but I’ll stop there)? He’s doing very different things in each of those movies. He didn’t set out to accomplish the same thing in each one, and forcing them to compete with each other is pointless.
But anyway, back to Blue Jasmine. In what may perhaps be Allen’s best film since…just kidding. I’m a lazy reviewer, but at least I know I’m lazy. Here’s a quick punch-list of general notes:
▶ It’s set primarily in San Francisco, with flashbacks that take place in New York City.
▶ CATE BLANCHETT. She plays what must have been a very, very difficult role, and she is phenomenal in it. I cannot stop thinking about her performance.
▶ Who else writes roles like this for women? (There was a great article in the Times last week about Woody Allen’s female protagonists. All hail Diane Keaton for showing Woody the way.)
▶ Andrew Dice Clay? Seriously? Yeah, and he was great, proving once again that Woody gets the best performances out of every actor he works with.
▶ There’s a creepy dentist in the movie named Dr. Flicker, a nod to the smoking pediatrician in Annie Hall. I had a deep Woody-nerd moment in the theater last night over that one.
▶ I love Bobby Cannavale. (Third Watch fans unite.)
▶ Yes, this really is the best movie Woody Allen has made in a long time.
Here’s the plot synopsis: “After everything in her life falls to pieces, including her marriage to wealthy businessman Hal (Alec Baldwin), elegant New York socialite Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) moves into her sister Ginger’s (Sally Hawkins) modest apartment in San Francisco to try to pull herself back together again.” I have to laugh at the word “modest” describing Ginger’s apartment because I know San Francisco ain’t cheap, but it’s functioning as a stand-in for Brooklyn, where Jasmine had previously stooped to living (that got a big laugh in the theater!) after losing her Manhattan life of luxury and excess. The point is that Jasmine used to be very, very, very wealthy, and Ginger is an average woman leading an average life. There are allusions to A Streetcar Named Desire, yes, but it’s not a retelling of that story — nor is it Ruth Madoff’s story, those are just the references you have going into the theater. By the time you’re done with it, though, all of that seems incidental. This is Jasmine’s story, or at least part of it, and it doesn’t have an end. I left the theater feeling pretty raw. I also felt like I wanted to go back to my seat and watch the late showing, too. You’re seeing everything through Jasmine’s hyper-judgmental, snobbish eyes while also watching her have a true mental breakdown, and the effect is incredibly disturbing. Woody Allen is of course the master of introducing just enough lightness and comedic into very dark, emotionally heavy moments, and he does it perfectly in this movie. In that way (and only in that way) I was reminded of Hannah and Her Sisters — another “serious” Woody movie with a lot of hilarious moments.
GO SEE IT!! If you’re in Brooklyn, it’s showing at the BAM Harvey Theater on the enormous new Steinberg screen. I saw The Godfather there last week, too, and it’s a pretty majestic space. I love seeing movies in theaters that feel special.
I’m a little afraid to admit this, but I haven’t been a WA fan. Sure, I love Hannah and her Sisters but Sleeper ruined me back in my teens when I was shallow and stupid and mostly wanted straightforward beauty and romance in my movies. So, with that said, I want to try to “get” where you are coming from and with all these great modern devices, I can watch old movies without even leaving my house. What WA movies do you most highly recommend? I’d like to give it a go again seeing how I’m older and wiser now. 😉
Well, Sleeper is in a whole different category of Woody Allen movies — it’s from his more slapstick, pre-Annie Hall years, and while I like those movies as well, they’re not the ones I adore. If you want to start all over with Woody Allen, then watch Annie Hall first. Then Manhattan. Then re-watch Hannah and Her Sisters. Radio Days. Crimes and Misdemeanors. Then go back a few years and watch Stardust Memories (better appreciated once you have a few WA movies under your belt). Then the rest. This isn’t meant to be a list of my favorites, really, but I think they’re the ones that provide the best introduction to who he is as a director, and to the types of characters and actors he gravitates to. They’re also very easy to engage with.
Can’t wait to see it. Lovelovelove woody Allen. But I thought to rome with love was garbage.
I enjoyed watching To Rome With Love (mostly for Judy Davis), but it’s one of the ones I was referring to when I said there are some I’ll probably never see again.
I hope it opens in Seattle soon.
What really irritates me is, that it totally sounds like “a Streetcare Named Desire” and many reviewers also noted it, but I haven’t yet seen an official statement that it is a reinterpretation or inspired by it. It just kind of seems strange to make something that is soo much like a famous work of art and then to not explicitly say that this was the starting point. Or did I miss something?
An official statement? From who, Woody Allen? Most artists pay homage to other works all the time — making statements about it is unnecessary. Think about the influence of Bergman on his entire career! There are constant references to literature, comedy, film, drama, visual art, etc. in all of his movies. It would be like saying he should make a public statement that Hannah & Her Sisters is in part homage to Fanny & Alexander. It’s unnecessary.
(It is absolutely NOT a retelling of Streetcar or a remake or even at all the same story. There are references, yes, but that’s the end of it.)
Well, I don’t think people saw the Hannah and her sisters trailer and were like “Oh, its a remake of Fanny & Alexander”. But this is what I thought when watching the “Blue Jasemine” trailer and had to rewatch it twice to make sure that I hadn’t missed it saying somewhere “remake of Streetcare Named Desire”. And then I thought if I just imagined how similar it seemed but when looking at other people’s comments several were asking “is this a remake?”. And several reviewers also seemed to suggest that it is kind of a modern remake. Maybe its just the trailer giving the impression that this is a remake and in truth it doesn’t have that much of a connection, but yes, I do think if you are making a remake you are supposed to say somewhere “this is a remake of xy”.
It’s not a remake of Streetcar. Woody Allen has not plagiarized Tennessee Williams. I’m not sure what else I can really say, but I’m sure once you’ve seen the movie the distinction I’m making between elemental homages within the movie versus this being a remake will be clearer to you.
I don’t think Woody Allen did anything wrong. If we received an official statement (which made me chuckle–it’s a movie, not an update on Egypt) for every movie or book that paid homage or reinterpreted/retold a classic story or movie, we would realize how little is truly original. There are only so many tropes in the world, so in the end it becomes a game of nuances. Some movies and books are more recognizable than others, and others slip by the public’s notice. I don’t know that many people realize Apocalypse Now is Conrad’s Heart of Darkness or that My Own Private Idaho is Shakespeare’s Henry IV (part I, II) and V. Even The Lion King is a retelling of Hamlet.
Having said all that, I know that’s not really your point. You’re saying the trailer makes it seem this is a blatant retelling of Streetcar, not just a movie that drew inspiration or pays homage. It’s the studio that puts together the trailer and they more than anyone recognize how much the public enjoys their tropes and retellings. I know I do. There are certain ones I revisit when I’m stressed or don’t want to think. Predictability is comforting. The public likes to know what they are getting before they walk into the movie, so it’s possible the studio put this together so that anyone watching it would think “kinda like Streetcar.”
In my experience, when a trailer suggests “kinda like” but doesn’t say it’s a retelling in the title or anywhere else, there are enough distinctions to make it its own movie. I could be wrong on this one since I haven’t seen the movie, but Anna seems to think that’s the case here, as well.
Well, that was a far more eloquent reply than I could have mustered. Thank you, Jules — well said!
Thanks for the review. I’ll probably have to wait for the DVD, as my pathetic Southern city generally ignores anything that isn’t horror, schlock, or Disney. Or a good movie will play for exactly one week. Sheesh.
I’ve loved WA for years, at least partly because he is not at all afraid to do something that isn’t “The Best” in everyone’s eyes. Having fun making a movie seems to be impossible for far too many artists.
Oh I can’t WAIT to see this! I love Cate! How great was she on Letterman?! Thanks for sharing, too. I LOVE a review and this one is great to read!
I didn’t see her on Letterman, I’ll have to find it online!
have you seen the station agent? Bobby Cannavale is so unassuming and wonderful in it, and it’s a great film all around
I haven’t! I’ve never watched Boardwalk Empire, either. I really only know Cannavale from Third Watch. I’ve heard really good things about The Station Agent, though — I’ll put it on my list.
I already knew that I wanted to see this movie (adore Woody Allen and Cate Blanchett) but hearing this ‘review’ sealed the deal for me…
Annie Hall was the first movie I saw alone in a theater. It’s still my favorite. Can’t wait to see this one. Especially since it’s filmed in the Bay Area. Thanks for the review and the trailer — hadn’t seen it!
This looks great. I can’t wait to see it. There haven’t been many good film releases in Australia lately. Thanks Anna!
Ha, Third Watch! I was trying to remember the name of that recently when I saw snippets of Chicago Fire (terrible) at a friends place but it had completely slipped my mind. I loved that show and I love Bobby Cannavale, thanks for jogging my memory!
I’m so looking forward to this coming out here (fingers crossed small town New Zealand can cope with it, or I’ll have to make a trip to the city) as I’m a huge WA fan. I really appreciate the comment you made about not being fussed by the uneven nature of some of his films, I feel the same way and while I get the frustration maybe at things not being as great as you’d hoped I’ve never really thought it’s that valid a criticism. Or really just, who cares? I mean, I found Scoop a little trying but even the movies I don’t love are never truly awful and I think it’s cool that while he has a very clear style he tries weird things that sometimes work and sometimes don’t. Surely that’s why we like him!
You’re not a lazy reviewer at all. 🙂
I share your feelings about Woody Allen movies. You must see all of them at least once, you just never know how one will effect you. I’ve had profound connections with some, wanting to stay in the theater for another showing. I know people who don’t necessary feel anything from his films. For me, Annie Hall, Husbands and Wives, and Manhattan (and others) helped inform my ideas about adult society and probably shaped who I am as a woman.
I recently watched Midnight in Paris for the second time. It wasn’t a favorite but now I’m seeing some layers that I’m currently relating to. What did you think of it?
I have tickets to see this at bam today, how funny that you just wrote this 🙂 I was feeling kind of indifferent about it but now I’m really excited!!
Wow, I’m not much of a Woody Allen fan, but you might have convinced me to see this one- I did love Midnight in Paris- and SF & NYC are my two favorite American cities! Plus, how can you wrong with Cate Blanchett?
(Just found you via Hither & Thither and glad I did! I’m a fellow Hudson Valley-ite- grew up on LI and have lived in Rhinebeck/Kingston for the past seven years 🙂
Hi Christy! 🙂 If you’re a Cate Blanchett fan, you really need to see Blue Jasmine — this is her movie. I actually haven’t seen her in many other movies (maybe one?), but now I really want to.
Hi Anna, I enjoyed your review! I’ve missed at least a decade of WA films, after spending the 90s discovering his back catalogue, then breaking up with the boyfriend I watched them with! I agree with you that each one offers something, profound or not. I was always interested (as a trained graphic designer) in his consistency with the typeface (or font) used in his films!
Love your blog.
Cass, have you seen this blog post (which is continually updated) about Woody Allen’s film typography and his use of the Windsor typeface?
(His repeated use of the same typeface in simple white on black title sequences is yet another nod to Bergman, by the way. Bergman used the same faces over and over again, including Windsor…)
Hi Anna, this is 5 years late! I appreciated your thoughtful reply to my comment and it seemed rude not to say (even if it’s weirdly late).
Hi Anna, this is 5 years late! I appreciated your thoughtful reply to my comment and it seemed rude not to say (even if it’s weirdly late).
My one of my SF “squee” moments is learning that Cate B. ate some ice cream from my fave SF ice cream struck, Twirl & Dip (located in Golden Gate Park) and loved it to much that she had them treat the movie set peeps. Also may have walked by them when they were shooting a seen in SOMA, will have to see.
*ice cream truck
* shooting a scene
for those new to W.A., or “coming back to….
“Purple Rose of Cairo” & “Interiors”
I think Interiors (which I love now, but didn’t when I first saw it) might be a rough one for someone new to WA, although I guess that depends more on the age of the viewer. I was probably 15 or 16 when I saw it the first time, and I just didn’t have the life experience to really understand it.
I’m surprise by how many WA fans haven’t seen Purple Rose of Cairo or Broadway Danny Rose (worth it for Mia Farrow’s role alone!)…or even Zelig. His body of work is so enormous that you really can keep coming back again and again and finding new things even in the films you’ve already seen. Sorry to go off on a tangent here. 😉
i think you’re right on all counts… and i love your tangent(s)
I’m so excited to see this, and am glad to hear all the positive reviews. I live in San Francisco, and they shot the exterior scenes for the sister’s apartment on my block!
That’s so cool, Jen!
I love, love, love Woody Allen forever and ever Amen. Adore. This movie looks amazing.
I think Andrew Clay is one of those unrecognized talents, thanks in large part to his offensive comedy routine in the 90s (which I saw live, btw). I have found his performances subtle but compelling in almost every movie I have ever seen him in. He’s a scene stealer for me.
I’m pretty sure I’ve only seen the Diceman in two movies — Pretty In Pink (of course) and Ford Fairlane. Why I actually saw the latter in the theater (!!) is beyond me, but I now consider myself a fan of him as an actor, if not a stand-up.
Yeah, I went to see him with a boyfriend (Jeez, I’m too nice) and what struck me is that he looked so uncomfortable on stage. I don’t think he even liked his own routine!
I saw Ford Fairlane in the theater too (!!) but it was in some obscure movie that I saw him where I thought say wha?. I was shocked. Never forgot that. He was like a gentle giant or something. Obviously the rest of the movie wasn’t worth remembering because that’s all I’ve got.
Oooh, thanks for the recommendation, will have to go and see this! I love movies like that; where you immediately want to see it again. Same with books, nothing better than finishing a book and then continue to think about it for the next few weeks.
This is just great! I love Woody Allen. I remember when my mom used to watch it when I was a kid and I didn’t understand why she loved him so much as a producer and an actor. By the time I reached 19, it all made sense to me. I have to agree with you, Anna, it’s pointless to compare one WA movie to the other. They all tell their own stories and they are so different in that matter. Now, I am not saying that all his movies are gems, but they are indeed all worth to be seen at least once. My favorite movie of WA is and will always be “Match Point”. I am really looking forward to see this new movie. And Cate!!! Hell Yeah!
I didn’t see that movie yet, but the story description sounds pretty much like Streetcar Named Desire…
Did you read the post? 😉 (And the comments, too…)
The post yes, comments no ;-), but I have to admit I was reading fast and not so carefully, foreign language doesn’t help (but should not be an excuse) and reading on the trip…that much about being original I guess LOL