‘Blue Jasmine’ Revives Woody Allen’s Film-Making Genius

Photo: courtesy of impawards.com

By David Combest

September 18, 2013

There is much debate on whether or not Woody Allen is over the hill and has nothing thought provoking left to say.

The 77-year-old filmmaker has a career that spans over 50 years. Woody started his career as a comedy writer and stand-up comedian.  He later became a playwright and although he was a successful comedy writer, stand-up comic and playwright on Broadway, he is best known for his films.

Allen, popular to contrary belief, takes a somewhat studio approach to writing films, in which he makes a movie every year. Ever the traditional, yet eccentric director and writer, Allen has notes in his nightstand and combs through them, picking up ideas as he reads the short drafts. Allen, a creature of habit, types the script on his Olympia SM-3 typewriter, which he has used from the start of his career. Allen’s mainstream success in films would be his 1977 romantic comedy “Annie Hall”.

The artist’s work includes many powerful and wonderful films including “Bananas,” “Sleeper,” “Manhattan,” “Deconstructing Harry” and many more.  

The themes in Woody Allen’s work range from love, death, crime, existentialism, neurosis, searching for a higher power, romance, sex, filmmaking, etc.

Allen’s roles in his films have been simplified into one description, a neurotic New Yorker who is constantly anxious. Although this is part of his stylistic and artistic direction that some critics may not enjoy, it is not the full picture of Allen’s expansive work.

Each character may share similar aspects, but each one has their own motives, ideology and philosophy.  Despite some critics, Allen’s work has been arresting and powerful; he’s considered a leading figure in the art of filmmaking. Though some call him a hack in these contemporary times, claiming he has used up all his talents in his early work, I must respectfully disagree.

I will admit that the artist has made some weaker films. “Vickie Christina Barcelona” is probably his weakest, but to review his contemporary work as poor as a result for his recent failings is not correct.

Woody Allen has proven these critics wrong with his new film “Blue Jasmine,” which follows the wife of a Bernie Madoff type character, Hal (Alec Baldwin) who has committed suicide in jail. Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) moves-in with her working class sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco after losing all her money to the feds. Prior to the events shown in the film, Jasmine has a mental breakdown resulting in her emotional instability. She tries to keep her sanity as she figures out what to do with her life now that she no longer can rely on her husband or wealth.

The film shows the crippling effects of greed executed by hedonistic CEO’s. Blanchett gives a spectacular performance as the nervous and desperate socialite. Hawkins is flawless as a supportive sister, despite the verbal abuse she endures from Jasmine, who dismisses Ginger’s working class lifestyle. Andrew Dice Clay, a stand-up comedian known for his crude and abrasive comedy, breaks his comfortable mold to play Augie, Ginger’s ex-husband who lost everything when he invested money in Hal’s scheme.

Dice Clay’s performance as a well-intentioned man investing in Hal’s scheme, paints him as a victim whom the audience is empathetic with because of Clay’s authenticity.  The directing shows how masterful Allen is in the art of filmmaking. Despite the realism and gloom of moral choices, there are comedic moments that solidify “Blue Jasmine’s” worth as a three-dimensional film.

This film is one of Allen’s better films in recent times. I wish it were a bit longer and although it does not join the ranks of some of Allen’s more well-known work, it does show that Allen once again produces commanding, emotional and human work.