Friday, August 16, 2013


I've never seen a Woody Allen movie I didn't get something out of, even if it was just an hour or two of escape. Certain artists I dig I try to keep up with their work and always find it interesting on some level. And Allen has proven he's a master of comedy, and romance, and romantic comedy and satire and parody and mystery and even serious subjects like death and murder and betrayal and more.

But except for references to his New York Jewish differences with "middle class" WASPs etc. he has never really examined class issues very seriously. In BLUE JASMINE he does. And understandably he gets a lot wrong. As usual in his flicks there's not much racial variety, or even presence, even though it's set in New York and San Francisco. And the SF characters sound more like Brooklyn than North Beach (I mean Andrew Dice Clay and Bobby Cannavale with heavy New York accents, maybe I don't remember what San Francisco Italian-Americans sound like).

But those caveats aside, man is BLUE JASMINE powerfully serious and seriously powerful. As always in an Allen flick the acting is outstanding, which I usually attribute to Allen's directing, but as my friend Bill Lannigan, who I saw it with today, pointed out, it's the writing that makes the acting work, and he's right. There's some masterful script writing in this flick, especially for the main character, Jasmine, played by Cate Blanchett in a performance I hope everyone remembers come Oscar nomination time. As well as her sister played by the always wonderful Sally Hawkins.

Despite the usual criticisms of Allen, he's written some great roles for women over the years and filled them with great actors, including those two. But Jasmine is his most intensely focused examination of a complex and conflicted woman character ever for Allen, or any other director in a movie in years. It's as though Allen has finally captured what made some of his favorite Russian authors so good at plumbing the depths of women characters like Anna Karenina et. al.

It's also a timely movie. As some critics point out it's a kind of comeuppance for the 1% in a way and a protest on behalf of the rest of us 99%. But it's so much more than that. While Blanchett plays a woman whose anxiety is always a paper thin facade away from exploding, and Alec Baldwin plays her seemingly anxiety free scamming husband, the ease with which the wealthy privileged acquire and ascend until the rare reckoning is examined by Allen like a jeweler with his eyepiece exploring gems for flaws.

Allen has made movies with tension inherent in the plots, like the relatively recent mystery mini-masterpiece MATCH POINT (a much slighter examination of the impact of class on the ambitious), but most of his movies didn't have me on the edge of my seat. BLUE JASMINE did, or at least had me clenching my fists from the adrenaline rush of going down with the plot. It's an intense flick and at times wouldn't be easy to watch if it wasn't for Allen's and Blanchett's artistry. As Bill and I discussed later, just the changes in her eyes from scene to scene reflected masterful transformations.

Everyone in the cast has their moments, including Louis C. K., and Andrew Dice Clay is a revelation after all these years, but it's Blanchett's brave and revealing performance that I'm not sure too many other actors could make work, if any, that makes this movie worth seeing.

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