Lots of people will tell you that he hasn't made a good film since the 80s and box office (and a lot of critics) will tell you Match Point, Vicky Christina Barcelona and Midnight In Paris are his best movies of recent times but I completely and wholeheartedly disagree with both those statements.
I watch every movie he makes, have done, every year, for years and my favourite to put on and watch of his recent period have been Whatever Works and Scoop but recognise he may not have bashed out a truly great film since 1999's Sweet and Lowdown.
You may, at this point, have stopped reading having thrown your hands up in disgust at the fact that I just mentioned, what are considered, two of his weakest films of recent years.
Well, if you have and you feel the rest of this review has no validity because of that then, sorry, I can only assume you are humourless and only believe what is fed to you from the pages of the colour supplements by snooty, strokey chin, attention starved critics which are quick to jump on bandwagons without seemingly really watching the films properly. If that's a snap judgement of who you are then I apologise but stop making snap judgements about me or Woody Allen, for that matter and go back and watch a few of the titles you may have missed. Scoop, for one, is a bit of a missed comedic gem in its own way. Ignore You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger with every fibre of your being as it's worse even than Match Point, which was woeful and while Midnight in Paris may have looked great and appeared, with the cinematography, to be Allen back on form, the writing and the performances were spectacularly lazy. Don't tell the financiers that though, it made a shed ton of money compared to Allen's other output.
With all that said and the usual myths about Allen, that critics are quick to repeat, dispelled let's get back to Blue Jasmine. Blue Jasmine is a Streetcar Named Desire inspired piece about the wife of a financial crook who, after the arrest, trial and the husbands suicide in prison finds herself, practically penniless, having to stay with her adopted sister, who has a much less glamorous lifestyle, in San Francisco.
Jasmine is a woman very accustomed to a certain, high-society, way of life that is unable to accept her situation and refuses to, in both a delusional way by lashing out at others, refusing to give up things like first class air fare and matching luggage and drinking while popping painkillers and antidepressants and in a defiant, noble, almost heroic way by trying to get her life back on track in as many ways possible like attending school, working reception for a dentist and aspiring to be an interior designer. She's also going slowly and sadly mad.
She's a tragic character, a despicable character, a loser character, an inspirational character and a sympathetic character all rolled into one and yes it's Blanchett's unwavering tour de force performance that nails her but it's also Woody's astute, intricate writing and subtle directing that brings her completely to life.
Her sister, played excellently by British actress Sally Hawkins, is a different person altogether. She's working class, engaged to a mechanic, with no prospects and two unruly kids. She is also, in some ways, in awe of her adopted sister and believes strongly that helping her is the right thing to do as family is family, despite a greek chorus of her friends, boyfriend and ex-husband telling her that Jasmine's no good. In fact Ginger, Jasmine's sister, is one of the few characters in the film that actually defends Jasmine and even attempts, unsuccessfully, to emulate her and follow her lead, believing that the grass may, in fact, be greener and if she, as Jasmine prompts, applies herself, she could get more out of life. What the film partially examines is the idea that, is 'more' what she really wants or needs ultimately?
Despite Jasmine never, directly, having a hand in her husband's, Bernie Madoff like, exploits she is seen as culpable in the loss of some lottery winnings that her sister and ex-husband, Augie, invested with Alec Baldwin's white collar crook, Hal. Also there is some question of how much she knew and didn't know of the swindling, that returns throughout the film.
When she had the wealth, a period of her life we see interspersed throughout the film in flashback, she was a horribly selfish and self involved person, no more so than in a sequence where Jasmine sees a trip that sister Ginger and ex-husband Augie, played by the fantastic Andrew Dice Clay (seriously!), take to New York as a horrible imposition to her dinner plans.
It is in these 'before the bubble burst' flashbacks that Allen has any fun with the film, writing the opulent lifestyle and smug, arrogance of the wealthy with a quiet disgust that seeps through every exchange. The rest of the film's tone hovers around more sombre, ultimately doomed Husbands and Wives territory.
The film is not a comedy and although there are some funny bits in there the film is much more of a deep character study, the likes of which we haven't seen from Woody since Hannah and Her Sisters and, the aforementioned, Husbands and Wives. The characters in this are rich, developed, deep and you see each of their own personal dilemmas and can empathise or sympathise with each and every one of them, you can also condemn them just as fast. You watch, helplessly, as a combination of her own, often forgivable, mistakes, her own lies and a cruel-ish outside world impact on Jasmine's life and tear her down off the big steps she's desperately trying to climb up. The film's basic metaphor is that money can't buy you happiness. Jasmine is lost with or without wealth, it's just with money she is able to bury her unhappiness behind cocktail lunches and fine interior furnishings but really she has a philandering, crook husband, fickle friendships and an empire built on quick sand.
The other warning is do not go and see this movie for Louis CK as he is only in it for a very few minutes. It's an odd cameo to be honest. His sequence took me out of the film a little bit. Also the lack of a true comic relief, like Allen's own brilliant turn in Hannah and Her Sisters, to break up the serious side to the film it can grind you down just a little. The flashbacks are supposed to be the, slightly more, frivolous side of the picture but, really, post the financial collapse, it's difficult to do anything but despise these hollow cheats.
There is so much going on in this film and you can read a lot into it. There is also plenty to relate to in any one of the great ensemble of characters. It's not quite the scathing satire on the surface that you want it to be but look a little further into the subtext and its as scathing an attack on the fake wealth and opulence of Wall Street fat cats that you're likely to see.
The writing though, throughout, is fiercely and surprisingly good, the direction, as expected, is assured with an emphasis on simplistic realism and the performances are a little more uneven, but luckily the film focusses on Jasmine and Ginger, with both actresses who portray them being the best things in the film by a mile with Andrew Dice Clay very close behind them.
Apart from a couple of mild later-Woody-Allen style plot contrivances, that don't jar or annoy as much as they had the potential to do in less competent hands, you leave the theatre far from happy, this is a tragedy after all, but also wandering just where the hell THIS Woody Allen has been for so long and who either woke him up or, more exactly, who got him to do a few drafts of the script and get it right.
8 out of 10 very depressing but expertly made cocktails