Approaching the age of 80, with more than 40 feature films under his belt, Woody Allen continues to astonish, finding new ways to surprise audiences with each year's film.
With Blue Jasmine, he shows once again that he is a master of texture and tone - of creating complex, compelling work that never quite goes where you expect it to, even as it draws upon source material as familiar as Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire.
Allen is our most reliable and adventurous independent filmmaker, in the truest sense of the word. Having wowed audiences (and won an Oscar) with 2011's Midnight in Paris, he all but tossed off the frothy, divertingly insubstantial To Rome With Love. Now he comes back with Blue Jasmine, perhaps his most affecting work since his Crimes & Misdemeanors / Husbands and Wives period in the early 1990s.
It's fascinating to watch Allen both celebrate Williams' classic tragedy and turn it on its ear. Where Blanche Dubois was a self-deluding former teacher in reduced circumstances mourning the death of a lover who couldn't bear the weight of his sexual secrets, Allen's Jasmine (played to an Oscar-worthy fare-thee-well by the luminously fragile Cate Blanchett) is something else altogether.
Oh, her husband is dead - and she's come to San Francisco to stay with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), whose boyfriend is the earthy, sexy Chili (Bobby Cannavale). Jasmine is penniless, as it turns out, trying to get back on her feet. Having never finished her degree, she's thinking about going back to school, perhaps to become an interior decorator.
For backstory, Allen grafts an entire history told in flashback that is as interesting as the story in the foreground. As he moves back and forth in time, we learn that Jasmine was married to the handsome, dashing Hal (Alec Baldwin), an investment banker who, it quickly becomes apparent, could be Bernard Madoff. He and Jasmine live the high life, with a lavish Fifth Avenue pre-war apartment, homes in the Hamptons, vacations on the continent, limos, drivers, the whole package.
Present-day Jasmine is having trouble making the adjustment. She was paupered by the scandal that eventually broke over Hal's finances - and yet she plays the victim as well. Allen, however, reveals her for what she is: self-absorbed, unwilling to ask questions about Hal's finances (or philandering) until the evidence is too monumental to ignore.
Is she just another pawn in Hal's scheme - or an accomplice? Is willful ignorance the same thing as not knowing? Can you ever really put the past behind you when that past includes both mistreating and abusing the trust of those with whom you now need to be closest?
This review continues on my website.