So I finally got the chance to see Blue Jasmine this week. I knew nothing about the film going in other than that it must have been well-received, because when one isn’t (To Rome With Love, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger), the only people who know a Woody Allen movie has even come are me and Grierson.
Anyway, seven roving thoughts, spoilers obviously:
1. At this point, expecting Woody — who pretty much never leaves his apartment for anything other than Knicks games and his movies — to have any idea how normal humans live is asking too much of him, but even for him, there’s a lot of, “Hey, Woody, you should probably open a window every once in a while” moments in here. Biggest among all of them: His apparent belief that San Francisco consists solely of thick-necked, wife-beater-wearing blue-collar laborers with names like “Chili.” This isn’t even a dated thing: Was San Francisco ever like that?
2. Also: I love that Jasmine is so confused by computers that she has to take a basic adult-education computer class … and appears to have so much trouble with it that she nearly flunks out. And that the other people in this “how to use computers” class are anyone other than nursing home residents. It can be difficult sometimes to tell the difference between Woody’s characters’ ignorance of the modern world, and his.
3. Boy howdy, though, is Blanchett good. I’m not sure how much Woody had to do with the performance: She gives the character some depths I suspect he never considered. She’s also grand and showy and over-the-top that overtakes the whole film, to its benefit. It’s impossible to look away from her. She’s so big in the film that, honestly, it’s tough to tell what Woody had in mind for the role. Whatever it was, Blanchett just took the idea she had and ran hogwild with it. She’s not messing around.
4. Strange thing to say, but the movie loses considerable steam when Andrew Dice Clay leaves. He, even more than Bobby Cannavale (who seems to be doing a caricature of an actor doing a caricature), transcends a thin part and finds pathos and humanity in it; this is a man who didn’t ask for much out of life, yet kept getting screwed by people anyway, people with much larger insecurities and appetites than his. He’s terrific. Louis CK, I’m said to say, fares less well; he’s so mumbly and look-I’m-acting-but-not-really self-conscious that I can’t even figure out what his character was supposed to be, let alone what he is.
5. I’m glad Woody toys with structure a bit here: Anything that knocks him out of his comfort zone these days is more than welcome. His New York upper-crust scenes have more of an edge than they usually do; he’s legitimately disgusted by the Madoffs and their ilk (though he clearly has sympathy for the family members left behind) and lets them have it in a way that only someone who knows that world well could. Alec Baldwin’s so good at playing a smooth Evil Mr. Big that you almost wish his comeuppance would happen on screen.
6. Woody loses his way toward the end before pulling it out with a jaw-dropper of a finale. I’m not sure the story with Jasmine’s son is handled well — we don’t meet him until halfway through the film, and he’s so poorly sketched that the big finale doesn’t land nearly as hard as it should — and the Peter Sarsgaard character is so ridiculous that I spent most of the movie assuming that Jasmine was imagining him. (If I trusted Woody to have the energy to pull such a switch, I’d still sort of believe it. It makes thematic sense.)
7. But oh that ending. When in doubt, just point the camera at Blanchett and let her take care of the rest. She takes a funny movie — and it’s worth noting that it is quite funny — with dark undertones and turns into something pitch black and scary. The actress and director might not have been on the same page all the way through here, but it doesn’t matter: The overarching effect is devastating. This isn’t one of Woody’s best movies, even in the last couple of decades; it’s too slack in parts, too in obvious need of a trim. (You could lose Michael Stuhlbarg’s dentist character, for one.) But at its best, it’s breathtaking.