Blue Jasmine (2013)
Written and Directed by Woody Allen (Duh)
Woody Allen is my absolute favorite filmmaker, so it’s kind of funny that I’ve never reviewed one of his movies on here (not counting my brief glowing endorsement of Zelig in my 10 Films Every Libertarian Should See list). I guess I just don’t really have much to say about his films, which isn’t true, but fuck you I just don’t feel like it. Basically, I like, or like like, or love all his movies, and I definitely have lots of things to say about them, but where to start? Do I just do a series of lists, each covering a different decade? I guess. That’s probably the best way to go about it. But fuck you, that sounds like a lot of work. So I’ll just review Blue Jasmine for now, and do all that other stuff in the future, which most scientists agree is far, far away and not at all worth thinking about.
So anyways, let’s get down to business. “What business is that,” you might ask, “the blowjob business?” Well sure, the glowing title of my review may lead you to believe this will be a blowjob of a review, and as such, not at all worth reading. But you’re wrong. Brace thy selves, because I’m about to drop a bomb: Blue Jasmine is not perfect, by any means. In fact, it’s a deeply flawed film. (Insert audible gasp from your mouth.)
Some of Allen’s work is so perfect it feels like he spent years on it (even though he only ever spends a few months) but some of it, like this one, feels, well, unsanded. There’s definite craftsmanship, and you can sit down in the chair that is this film in this weird yet sense-making metaphor and enjoy yourself, but here and there a splinter will prick you. And I’m not talking about groaner lines, which every Woody Allen movie has a few of. In fact, call me lame, but I tend to like those. “I’m running out of obsequious banter,” from Melinda & Melinda, is one of my absolute favorites. Y’all may roll thine eyes at how horribly these lines come off the tongue no matter how great an actor the actor is that is delivering them, but I think they’re delightful. So no, I’m not talking about those, or any other stylistic flourish. I’m talking about legitimate filmmaking mistakes.
Though Blue Jasmine may be Woody’s most visceral film in ages (I’ll get to exactly why later) it’s also his shoddiest. For instance, it may be 98 minutes, but the thing feels significantly longer, as though a good 15 could’ve been cut. It’s a repetitive movie, and not all the scenes are necessary—some, in fact, accomplish the same exact task a previous one has, or just belabor the general goings on by over-explaining a plot point that could’ve been explained with a line or two, or even a character’s wayward glance or something. Blunders like these may not be immediately detectable to your layman filmgoer, but anyone who knows even basic scene construction can see this sort of thing pretty clearly. (The aforementioned layman will certainly sense something is off though, because mistakes like these always bog down the pace and cause boredom.)
But the film isn’t just flawed at the script level. It’s flawed on a technical level too. Basic fundamentals are sloppy here—specifically, blocking and eyelines and focus pulling. Apparently, the budget on this one was quite constrictive, as is the case with pretty much every Woody Allen movie, sure, but apparently this time they had very little money for costumes, and had to rely on a ton of favors. I suspect corners were cut in other areas as well, because it’s fucking amateur hour as far as the guys working the camera and figuring out the shots. The cinematographer, Javier Aguirresarobe, had previously DP’d Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which is a very good looking movie, but based on the rest of his filmography, I’m guessing that might’ve been a fluke. He’s DP’d a lot of alarmingly ugly movies, such as two Twilight flicks and The Road. Perhaps it’s not his fault though. For all I know, maybe he was just saddled with inexpensive, untalented help. Whatever the cause, it’s quite clear that the actors weren’t told well enough where they should be standing and looking, and that the camera guys weren’t sure when they should be pulling focus. (Thankfully, Santo Loquasto’s production design is as lovely as ever, so these issues aren’t as grating as they could’ve been.)
These problems aside, the acting is mostly great. I say mostly, because a couple unimportant characters played by unknown actors drop the ball. But everyone you already know the name of is fantastic in this. In particular, a lot of people have been going gaga over Andrew Dice Clay’s performance, all surprised that he can act or something, which is amusing. The man has been acting for damn near thirty years. That Diceman character is a character, you jackanapes. But this is par for the course—intellectual types never give comedians with mass appeal who do characters their due. These snooty fucks will go on for days about how brilliant Daniel Day Lewis is, and how immaculately he disappears into roles, then dismiss Larry the Cable Guy or Tracy Morgan as misogynistic and homophobic, completely missing the fact that they’re acting and that the joke is always on the fictional character they so skillfully disappear into, and not any actual targets. (But I digress—this could be a whole separate essay.)
There’s been some buzz about Cate Blanchett being a possible shoe-in come awards season, and I’d say that’s probably true. She fucking destroys in this. Here’s an actress who I always thought was talented, but was never truly on my radar. I’ve liked her in things, sure (The Gift is a hell of an underrated gem) but she never struck me as one of those five-star actors capable of fully becoming a character and elevating it to a transcendent level where you’re not even sure what it is you’re watching anymore, because it’s certainly not a movie, it’s more some four-dimensional gaping hole in the screen like in that movie theater scene in Donnie Darko. The woman doesn’t play one wrong note the entire movie. She is Jasmine. And if she doesn’t take the Golden Globe and the Oscar, then those awards shows are fucking shams oh wait they already are and I don’t care about them whatsoever phew that’s a relief.
“But where’s the visceralness?” you might be asking, because you’re stupid and don’t know that ‘visceralness’ is not a word. Well, the ‘visceralness’ lies in how, by the end of the movie, these elements—the mistakes and the masterful strokes of genius—magically come together. You see, the character of Jasmine is unstable as shit. I’m talking out-of-a-Cassavetes-film unstable. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t mind a few splinters when I’m watching a Cassavetes film. It doesn’t get in the way—in fact, I think it enhances the experience, because since the main character is so unstable, it’s okay if the camera and the script is a little unstable too, ya dig? Of course ya do. And if ya don’t, you’ve been warned: this movie is not for you. Go watch Zelig, you enjoyer-of-things-that-are-wholly-perfect.
4 out of 5 Codys.