Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

19 August 2013

LOTS of Drinking: Part One

I thought Cate Blanchett was really stellar in Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen's annual film.
After he made Midnight in Paris a couple years ago, people praised him: Woody's back! But that isn't really how Woody Allen works. He's not "back." Midnight was just one of the really good ones.

The famous shot from Interiors
As I am sure you are well aware, ever since Allen made Annie Hall in 1977, he has made an average of one film every year, directing (and often starring in) the current one while writing the next one. Some are great, some are less than great.

But even during the days of Annie Hall ('77) and Manhattan ('79), he made Interiors ('78) and Stardust Memories ('80), very difficult – even depressing – movies which most people had no idea what to do with. And Allen capped off the great streak of Zelig ('83), Broadway Danny Rose ('84), The Purple Rose of Cairo ('85), Hannah and Her Sisters ('86), and Radio Days ('87) by making September ('87) and Another Woman ('88). Ever heard of 'em?

That's probably too much intro to telling you that even though Allen is one of my absolute favorite filmmakers and a director whose films I always consider essential viewing, I did not care for Blue Jasmine (and, for the record, didn't care for his last picture, To Rome with Love, much either).

Jasmine is the story of a rich white socialite who loses all of her money because her scheming businessman-thief of a husband got arrested by the FBI and went to prison. Jasmine has started drinking very heavily (she is at least slightly tipsy in nearly every shot) and uncontrollably talking out loud to herself in public like a crazy person. Because this woman has actually begun to lose her mind.

The whole thing is funny, of course, but it isn't quite played for laughs. Instead, Blanchett plays this woman as a hot, drunk mess and her work is extraordinary. She's so good, in fact, that I almost started to feel sorry for her character at times.

I loved most of the other actors, too: there are a lot of them. Louis C.K. is great as a sound engineer who starts dating Blanchett's sister, played by Sally Hawkins. And I love Bobby Cannavale, Max Casella, and Andrew Dice Clay as the working-class guys who hang out with Sally Hawkins. (Cannavale in particular has some truly hilarious scenes.) Alec Baldwin and Peter Sarsgaard don't really have much to do in the movie, and Michael Stuhlbarg's character has only a single note to play.

And this is the largest problem, I think. Allen's film is scripted lazily. It is edited poorly. And there is so much repetition in the film ("Your husband was a crook!" "You can do better than this bum you're dating!" "Are you cheating on me with that au pair?" "You think you're so much better than me because you used to be rich.") that I was already bored fairly close to Blue Jasmine's beginning.

This doesn't take away from how great Cate Blanchett is as Jasmine herself, but it does make the whole thing a less than enjoyable experience as far as I was concerned. And frankly I find it really hard to sympathize with a woman with quite as much wealth as she has had when she has to take a computer class and work as a receptionist in a dentist's office. Get over yourself, lady.

I do want to say one more thing about Blue Jasmine. I've heard lots of people talking about Tennessee Williams and how this is in some way Allen's tribute to him or his version of A Streetcar Named Desire. I didn't see it. And Blue Jasmine's ending is pure Woody Allen. Even if the film is uneven, Allen's moral compass is still right on target.