Regular showings of Woody Allen’s ‘next great film’ have been a staple diet of the Robert Burns Centre Film Theatre Film Club since its inception but to date nether You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010) or the elaborate fantasy Midnight in Paris (2011) the last two films to be shown, have done nothing to impress me. I was hoping that maybe his latest offering Blue Jasmine (2013) might do the trick?
Introduced this week by RBC Film Club’s very own web site guru Rachel Findlay who began the evening by telling us a little of the film’s story which involves the downfall of a rich, elegant New York socialite, the Jasmine of the title, who is married to a wealthy financier, Hal. When he is discovered to be running a fraudulent Ponzi scheme he ends up in prison. Destitute, homeless and poverty stricken Jasmine decamps to San Francisco to stay with her working class sister Ginger and her two children. Who indecently, along with her ex-husband had been one of the victims of Hal’s dodgy schemes and had lost the $200,000 they had won in the lottery. Jasmine not only clashes with Gingers lifestyle but also her boyfriend. I’m sure our host’s explanation gave the packed audience a better understanding of the back ground to the story.
Written and directed by Allen this comedy drama has been compared to the Tennessee Williams play A Streetcar Named Desire. (A film of the same name was directed by the legendary Elia Kazan and starred Marlon Brando and Vivian Leigh). Blue Jasmine was beautifully filmed on location in New York City and San Francisco by the Spanish Cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe, who also worked with Allen on what was probable his best film of the last ten years Vicky Christina Barcelona (2008).
As usual an interesting discussion followed the film and I certainly got the impression that most people enjoyed the it, but I think we all agreed that it was the cast that helped raise it well above the standard of some of the directors earlier outings. Led by Cate Blanchett who gave a towering performance as Jasmine, a character that was a little pathetic, pleading that she knew nothing about her husband criminal dealings but whose attempts to reinvent herself after she was brought back down to earth were priceless. The British actress Sally Hawkins played Jasmine’s wee sister, as a cross fertilization between the kooky Poopy Cross in Mike Leigh’s Happy Go Lucky (2008) and the steely Rita O’Grady in Made in Dagenham (2010). It also starred Alec Baldwin as Harold ‘Hal’ Francis and Bobby Cannavale as Chili, Gingers boy friend, an actor you may remember from a very well received film club movie The Station Agent (2003) and 26 episodes of the TV series Boardwalk Empire.
Even with the standout cast I can’t help feel that Woody Allen sleepwalks through his directorial duties, working to his familiar formula. For example there is always a character in the film that is ‘Woody Allen’, in Blue Jasmine the character is shared between the actors but you still know it’s an Allen script, you have no problem imagining him speaking some of the dialog. There’s also the Allen soundtrack, which he gets away with because it’s always classy. But the main problem with the mans work is he has no idea how to portray working class people, never getting them quite right, never getting to the basics of ordinary folk, seemingly incapable of showing them in a realistic light. In general his characters come across as dream like and artificial which is probable why I can never totally engage with his work. Never mind, his next ‘great film’ Magic in Moonlight will be along next year.