8There’s been so many periods to Woody Allen‘s career, that it’s hard to tell what phase he’s in now, but he seems to be in a hot stretch. Blue Jasmine is his latest, and though (like so much of his recent work) it’s familiar, it’s also a strong sketch of a woman who’s been destroyed by modern finances and  is trying to put her life back together.

The Players:

The Plot:

Jasmine (Blanchett) leaves New York for San Francisco to live with her sister Ginger (Hawkins) after her marriage falls apart. Her sister is also single as her relationship with her husband Augie (Clay) went south after Jasmine’s ex Hal (Baldwin) lost their fortune. Ginger is dating Chili (Cannavale), a working class guy, and though Jasmine may be broke, she’s been living the high life until recently and objects to their union. As it unfolds, Hal was in finances and was a crook, which led to their separation and his suicide. As Jasmine tries to bring her life back together, she’s on the edge of falling apart as she’s not used to a world with no privilege, but also, as it’s revealed, is unable to handle her own role in her downfall.

The Good:

  • Cate Blanchett: Though it’s a role that could have been played by Judy Davis at some point in her tenure with Allen, Blanchett is one of the best actresses in the business, and she is an absolute marvel in the role. And though it’s familiar, this is a character unlike any in Allen’s films before. Blanchett is not doing a riff on Woody, and though there may be a little Blanche Dubois echos in the character, Blanchett doesn’t play them. She understands the precise nature of the words she chooses.
  • Andrew Dice Clay: the Diceman is asked to given a powerhouse performance, and though there may be some adjustment time to seeing him on screen, he’s asked to show the weight of bad decision that both Wall Street and Jasmine have made. And he nails it. It’s not Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler level revelatory, but Clay delivers the goods here.
  • Brevity: One of the great things about Allen has always been that he’s doesn’t muck about. Everything is on screen for a reason, there are no wasted moments, and everything adds up.

The So-So:

Familiar: Woody Allen has been making movies for a very long time, which leads to certain tropes and laziness. The film is set in San Francisco, but Cannavale, Clay, and Max Casella all have a  very New York attitude. Not that aren’t both Italian men and New Yorkers in San Francisco, but still. For those who’ve seen Crimes and Misdemeanors, Match Point, and maybe even Cassandra’s Dream, you know when Allen is in Russian novel mode, and this definitely fits in with those, though this may be better than most of them. Most of the performers are playing variations on characters that Allen has used before. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s there.

Expectations: I had heard both this and Midnight in Paris were masterpieces, and that To Rome with Love was a misfire. Of the three I may have enjoyed Rome the most. Allen seems to be in a good spot creatively, and he’s been doing great work of late, even if a lot of what he’s doing feels like the third of fourth time he’s played with a theme or idea. The problem is that at this point, Allen has at least ten movies that could be called his masterpiece. This is one of his better ones, but it’s hard to say if it scrapes near greatness, or is just pretty darn good. That’s a great problem to have.

Overall:

Easily one of the best films of the summer, Allen delivers another knockout film, with another great female performance (it’s funny how good Allen is with women). But if you like or love Woody Allen, it’s definitely a must see.

The Rating:

8.8/10

Blue Jasmine opens in New York and Los Angeles July 26, and will expand shortly.

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