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.