Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Run Time: 1 hour, 38 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins, Andrew Dice Clay
Written & Directed by Woody Allen (Annie Hall, Midnight in Paris, Match Point, Manhattan, To Rome with Love)
It's inevitable that when you have such an impressive filmography - spanning decades - that each new film will be compared to the previous ones. Such is the case with a filmmaker like the 77-year-old Woody Allen, who has now written and directed upwards of 40 films, churning them out at an uncanny and unmatched one-a-year rate (he literally has at least directed one film per year since 1977's Annie Hall, skipping only 1982). So is Blue Jasmine(opening today) Woody's best picture of the past decade? Where does it rank up against his best films, like Annie Hall, Match Point or Midnight in Paris?
Who knows exactly, but one thing's for sure: Blue Jasmine is at least among the best films of this year.
This is an unmistakably Woody Allen film through and through, beginning with the same font and opening graphics that we've come to expect and continuing with the same jazzy score that seems mismatched with the on-screen material. But if his neurotic, self-loathing comedic tone and his recognizable rhythm of dialogue could be harnessed and shot out of a fire hose, Blue Jasmine is only given a light spray...enough to feel familiar but not enough to make it come off like just "another Woody Allen movie."
He is working with a stellar cast of assembled talent, starting with Cate Blanchett, who as Jasmine, gives the performance to beat at this year's award shows. Jasmine is a privileged, upper-class woman who finds her world turned upside down. She never questions where her husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin) gets his money, because she'd rather not know. When things come crashing down, she is forced to move in with her adopted and estranged lower-class sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins).
On its surface, this is a fish-out-of-water story, a timely Woody Allen film that acts as a nightmarish scenario for any one-percenter. But oh, there is much more going on here under deeper examination.
In beautifully elegant ways, Allen explores themes of materialism, class, relationships and family. Does Jasmine deserve to have anything good happen to her? Her entire life is a lie, heck, her real name isn't even Jasmine. At the same time that she stands in judgment of her sister's choices in lifestyle and in men, her own lifestyle and choices remain unchanged. How do people plan on changing course if they are unwilling to make changes?
The film perpetually is anchored on the incredible depth given to the performance by Blanchett. As I left the screening, I wondered what redeeming qualities this character had and couldn't come up with much. Why then, was I mesmerized by her? Why did I care what happened?
To be expected from Woody Allen, there is a lot of talking, but each scene fits together perfectly. He even dabbles in a different approach to story-telling, with the film's narrative shifting back and forth between Jasmine's current down-and-out life and her days on top of the world. Allen is no longer afraid to venture outside of New York City and here he spreads his time out between the Big Apple and San Francisco. This "coast to coast" juxtaposition is just another subtle reference that Jasmine's old and new life couldn't be further apart.
The counter-balance to Jasmine in the film is her sister, Ginger, and Sally Hawkins also deserves award-worthy praise for this supporting role. A great ensemble, with Baldwin, Bobby Cannavale (HBO's Boardwalk Empire), Peter Sarsgaard and Louis C.K. also chip in with strong work. Perhaps most surprisingly, Andrew Dice Clay shows up as Ginger's meat-headed ex-husband and creates a memorable and sympathetic character out of a guy who was probably pretty two-dimensional on the page.
As Jasmine attempts to pick up the pieces of her life, we eventually find out that she may be incapable of change. So often we hear the rich talking about the less-fortunate needing to "pick themselves up by the bootstraps." Whether bound by education, lack of work ethic or a shortage of opportunities, the poor are often considered "stuck" where they are, with little chance of upward economic mobility. Who knew, that the rich - like Jasmine - can also get stuck where they are?
Blue Jasmine is light and funny at times while at others it is deeply moving. There isn't a dull moment, which is an achievement for a film that rarely consists of anything more than people talking to each other. Sometimes, it seems Woody Allen has very little to say. Then a film comes along like Blue Jasmine and it seems chock-full of insightful social commentary.
So is it the best Woody Allen film in years? The fact that this question is even being raised tells you something. For a guy who has given us so many gems, Blue Jasmine definitely ranks as another crowning achievement for the legendary Woody Allen.
Looking for a specific movie or review?