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Unexpectedly Different, but Still “Woody Allen” at its Core: A Review of Blue Jasmine

Grade: A-

Judging by the sold out showings and the throngs of people lining up around the block to see Woody Allen’s new drama Blue Jasmine, I think it’s safe to say that the 77-year-old (and one of the few remaining true auteurs) still has it.

A crowd-pleaser that’s already generating early Oscar-buzz, Allen’s Blue Jasmine will likely join the ranks with his other critically-acclaimed classics. Still, this one has a unique flair all its own.

It’s no secret that Woody Allen is my favorite director, favorite screenwriter, favorite filmic-mind. I adore his unique style and storytelling perspective, and I’m continually spoiled by his one-film-a-year ritual that repeats like clockwork. I’m familiar with his style—his quirks, his film motifs—and what struck me the most while watching Blue Jasmine was how this film blatantly strays from Allen’s norm.

The film follows Jasmine (played expertly by Cate Blanchett) who must leave her NYC life of luxury and move in with her little sister (Sally Hawkins) after her husband (Alec Baldwin) swindles away their fortune and hangs himself in prison. In her new home in San Francisco, she aims to recreate herself in a much-less-lavish setting, all the while popping Xanax between panic attacks as frequently as she passes judgment on her sister’s less-than-optimal dating history.

Allen is known for making the settings in his films characters of their own. What would Midnight in Paris be without Paris’ cobblestone streets? What would Annie Hall be without Annie’s New York driving or Manhattan without shots of the Queensboro Bridge? The setting for each of Allen’s films has always been so pivotal that the same storyline couldn’t be set anywhere other than where it is. This is not the case for Blue Jasmine. San Francisco just happens to be where the characters eat and breathe (or pop pills as the case may be) and other than the passing comment, “If you can’t fall in love in San Francisco, you can’t fall in love anywhere,” we hardly even realize San Francisco is where the film takes place. This is strange for an Allen film.

Similarly, Blue Jasmine strays from the Allen canon with its lack of art and cultural references that usually ooze from the characters’ mouths. In Blue Jasmine, the only references to art are the high-fashion brands that Jasmine clings to from her past—her Louis Vuitton luggage and all her leftover designer duds from her previous life. A Woody Allen film without a scene in a movie theater or an art museum? A Woody Allen movie where you don’t have to laugh along with the crowd as you fake understanding of the reference he makes to some author or philosopher you’ve never heard of, or pat yourself on the back when you actually do understand? His characters always want to outdo each other with their knowledge of extraneous information, but in this film, Jasmine’s only real quest is to outdo everyone around her with her ability to choose an advantageous partner and to appear as if her high-status has never wavered.

Despite these major differences from Allen’s usual films, Blue Jasmine still has the complex characters that we’ve come to expect from him. Blue Jasmine may lack the humor and the multiple storylines of Allen’s other classics, but he is able to create characters, as always, who straddle the grey line between right and wrong in the same moment they teeter between likability and abhorrence. It’s this expert balancing-act that makes Allen’s characters complex while insuring the films themselves are a joy to watch.

As is the case with Chris (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) in Match Point who tries to get away with the murder of his mistress, Allen is able to surprise the audience by making them root for a person they’d normally despise. The pleasure of watching his films comes from our almost subconscious realization that he’s turned a switch in us, that despite a character with irredeemable qualities and chastisable actions, we find ourselves rooting for them. Suddenly, the audience discovers they’re crossing their fingers for an unfaithful murderer as is the case in Match Point, or supporting a creepy relationship between an older man and child (Manhattan and Whatever Works) despite never expecting we would before.

Allen’s themes and characters are never black and white and this couldn’t be truer than it is of Blanchett’s downward-spiraling portrayal of Jasmine. The characters may be unlikable, but we care for them. We may hate what they do, but we always understand why they do it. Often, as is the case with Jasmine, their actions are entirely based on their extreme level of desperation. For whatever reason, desperation is a quality we can identify with. It’s a quality we understand. Watching Blantchett in a mesmerizing performance as Jasmine splashes and flails in the metaphoric hole she’s dug and is drowning in, we can’t help but sympathize with her struggle. She knows of the mistakes she makes. She’s made the bed she lies in, but her mistakes are human ones.

Woody Allen achieves with Blue Jasmine what he does in all his films, he has the audience going in expecting to feel one way about a character or an action, builds that up like a sand castle, and then amazes us when he shifts everything and the castle still stands. He opens a new perspective, and as outlandish as the events may be, they’re still real, relatable and always keep us thinking.

Our intellect stays turned on. As always, Allen makes sure of it.

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Movies are how I understand my world

59thstbridge(2) I understand the world through movies. I only understand economics in terms of the film industry and politics in terms of documentary and politically twisted plots. I know which fork to use first from Titanic, and I understand Duke and Duchess culture from The Duchess, 80s fashion from Sixteen Candles, and how to best rob a bank from The Town. My earliest basic understanding of football came from Remember the Titans. I better understand my childhood, and the nostalgia associated with it, when I view anything by Spielberg, or my childhood favorite Free Willy, or when I experience the sadness of Andy giving away his toys in Toy Story 3. My role models are fictional: Andie from Devil Wears Prada, Rachel McAdams in anything besides Mean Girls, Celine in Before Sunset/Sunrise. Not only do films like Juno and Charlie Bartlett influence my own writing style, but the plots influence my life. I know not how to hold a coffee cup from my parents but from an actress. My idealized dream of New York City is entirely based on how it’s depicted in Woody Allen movies; and it is that image of the city, that shot of Woody Allen and Diane Keaton sitting beneath the Queensboro bridge in Manhattan that put dreams of New York City into my head until I obtained a NYC address of my own. I want Clementine’s spunk in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, to be loved with the intensity Robby feels in Atonement, to be as adorable as Penelope Cruz is in Vanilla Sky. I want to hear “you had me at hello,”  and I want a tiny Jonathan Lipnicki, spiky hair and all, to keep in my pocket at all times spouting things like, “Do you know that my next door neighbor has three rabbits?” My morality, my idealism, my cynicism, my dreams, goals, aspirations, limitations, hairstyles, fashion, thoughts, perceptions, perspectives, and opinions are all shaped by film. It doesn’t hurt that I submerse myself in as many as possible, but apart from a few reality/fantasy boundaries I can’t differentiate, I don’t feel tainted by my cinephile ways. Its variety has shaped me.

I owe it to the movies, then, to give them my two cents. After all, they’ve provided me with an unmatched education.