The older Woody gets, the more surprising he becomes

You’ve heard of Woody Allen, right? Of course you have. The guy who directed Cassandra’s Dream, You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger, and To Rome with Love. Wait – you don’t remember those? What about Bananas, Annie Hall, Manhattan, Interiors, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Match Point, and Midnight in Paris? The point I’m trying to make is that no matter how many unmemorable or just plain bad Woody Allen films you can name, there’s at least three great ones for each stinker. That’s why the man’s been working as long as he has. He manages to make a movie that taps into the subconscious of a nation every once in a while. While it remains to be seen whether Blue Jasmine will stand the test of time and become part of the official Allen cannon, for the time being, I’m going to let it have its place in the sun, because just like Midnight in Paris, it’s a surprising work from a legendary director who could have easily become complacent at this point in his prolific career.

The incredible Cate Blanchett plays the title character. Jasmine is a fragile and fractured socialite whose life has been mainly bought for her by ex-husband Hal (Alec Baldwin). In a humorously tragic opening scene, Jasmine relays her entire life story to a woman next to her on a plane. When the nameless woman gets her bags and finds her husband, she tells him she never said a word to Jasmine. This gets a big laugh, as it should, but it also helps us define Jasmine. She’s a special case. When she arrives in San Francisco to live with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), she immediately believes that she can start changing Ginger’s life for the better; she basically kicks Ginger’s beau (Bobby Cannavale) to the curb, and she tells her nephews things she probably shouldn’t about her life. Over the course of the film, Jasmine learns that even if she could, she can’t control Ginger until she can learn to control her fractured mind and heart.

Jasmine’s double-sidedness is also reflected in the film’s editing – something someone says will leap in Jasmine’s mind and recall for her a simpler time before she got herself caught up in Hal’s financial scheming. All of these parts of the film lead up to a great reveal which helps explain why Jasmine is frazzled to the degree that she is.

Overall, I think this is the best film Allen’s made since Mighty Aphrodite. It’s a perfect example of a great character study – low-key, minimalist, but with just the right amount of cinematic pizazz and great writing to make something lasting and special. Cate Blanchett is a lock for the Oscar, by the way.

-George Napper

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