Like death and taxes, a Woody Allen a year is either inevitable or something you can consistently look forward to, depending on your perspective.
This year's offering from the insanely prolific director is a little film called 'Blue Jasmine.'
After her husband is taken to jail for some large-scale financial shenanigans (think, Bernie Madoff), Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) moves to from New York to San Francisco to live with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins). The two sisters are complete opposites: Jasmine is used to a posh lifestyle and until now, has led a charmed life while Sally has always struggled. Years earlier, Sally and her then-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) invested everything they had with Jasmine's husband Hal (Alec Baldwin). When that fell apart, they were ruined and their family (including two children) dissolved from this strain. Needless to say, Augie still has some hard feelings while Ginger puts all of that aside to help her sister even though she is now dating another 'loser' that Jasmine doesn't approve of named Chili (Bobby Cannavale).
In a new town, surrounded by people she cannot relate to and who she still looks down upon, Jasmine clings to her haughty ways though her behavior occasionally hints at the fact that she might be on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
While she tries to begin her life anew by taking a computer class and trying to pursue her interest in interior design, she simultaneously complicates her sister's life.
Will Jasmine ever be able to move on from the humiliation of her past and come to terms with the drastic lifestyle change that has been forced upon her? Can she stop being so condescending and develop a healthy relationship with her sister? Will either woman be able to establish and maintain a healthy relationship?
As inconsistent as 'To Rome With Love' was, it had a lightness that is missing here. There are only one or two scenes that are outright funny with any other humor being very sly and subtle. For the most part, this is a drama with some romantic elements. Allen's best work has almost always been a result of commitment to either comedy or drama with a few notable exceptions that blended the two. He gets into trouble when the tone isn't firmly established early on.
The narrative bounces back and forth between the present and past tense: showing Jasmine in her current desperate state and a scene from the past when she was in the lap of luxury that is also in response to what happens in the present. At first, this bouncing around is slightly disorienting and is very annoying. Upon getting used to it, it is a viable way to fill us in on Jasmine's journey though there must have been a better way to do it.
Speaking of ineffective narrative techniques, it seems as though there is a lot of pedestrian exposition shoehorned into the dialog of this film. He has been more seamless with his dialog in the past (when he is on his game, Allen has been one of the best at this) which suggests that some of the finer details in this story weren't smoothed out.
This isn't a spoiler, but things end in an appropriate place but everything is wrapped up so hurredly and by a chance encounter and last-minute revelation. This deus-ex-machina ending has been utilized by Allen before ('Mighty Aphrodite') and it always hurts the end result.
The performances really carry the day. Allen has a lot of leverage and ability to both attract and get the most out of talent. Obviously, Blanchett is the star here and she elevates the material. Anything that works in this story basically works because of her performance. Baldwin and Hawkins are also very strong. Cannavale adds the right amount of intensity to the story. Clay and C.K. actually do good work here, though each only really has a few scenes. Whether it's a credit to Allen as a director or merely his ability to attract talent, he is always able to get the most out of his cast.
Special features include: a few previews
It's hard to call 'Blue Jasmine' a comedown because it isn't on the heels of a massive success, but it is merely an average late period work from the director. Though it may be a pedestrian story/script, Blanchett's performance makes this well-worth watching.
Rated R 93 minutes 2014