Woody Allen is not one to compromise on style. Indeed, that’s probably the reason why you either love him or hate him. All of his films even start off the same: white Windsor font over black, inoffensive jazz music, cast (in order of appearance) and then … go!
His new film, ‘Blue Jasmine’, is an exciting comeback after a series of irritatingly bland productions from Europe. From the painfully pseudo-intellectual ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’ to the pointless 92-minute rant that was ‘Whatever Works’, fans were right to question whether it was all going downhill from here. But ‘Blue Jasmine’ is something else.
It tells the story of Jasmine French, a college dropout, turned spoiled trophy wife, turned neurotic mess. Swept off her feet by the promise of grandeur and love (in that order), Jasmine abandoned her degree to marry soon-to-be obscenely rich stockbroker, Hal. With her designer clothes and jewellery, house on Park Avenue and a sea of superficial friendships, Jasmine skimmed through life effortlessly – until she was rocked back into reality.
Crushed by her husband’s unfaithfulness and made penniless by his imprisonment, Jasmine moves to San Francisco to find her feet. Having spent the last twenty years in a glamour-induced coma though, her feet have sadly atrophied, causing this to be more of a challenge than she first thought.
The film’s excellent storytelling isn’t just limited to the impeccably nuanced dialogues and interludes of piercingly awkward and dry schadenfreude humour. The narrative structure, vaguely akin to ‘Annie Hall’, runs both of Jasmine’s lives side by side – the glamour on the East coast and squalor on the West. Short of closure over the death of her previous life, Jasmine dwells on the comfort and confidence she used to enjoy. The audience constantly catch her talking to herself, reliving scenes of her gilded memories, unable to let go.
The remarkable thing about Jasmine, and indeed the film, is that she’s an extremely flawed, yet enchanting, character. Woody Allen has found someone who can play a neurotic better than himself (and that’s really impressive), while at the same time showing so much emotion. Teetering between frailty in one scene and resolve in the next, Jasmine feels authentic. There is the Xanax-popping, Martini-drinking, mascara-smudged cliché part of her character, of course, but she unravels and proves to be much more than a type.
Jasmine’s curse runs deeper than just her denial and vanity – it stems from her stolen freedom. She gave her life up for her husband and when she needs it back, too much time has passed for her to know how to start over. Ella Fitzgerald’s song ‘Blue Moon’ is the key to Jasmine’s character – playing when she first meets Hal, the song goes on to haunt her. “You saw me standing alone / without a dream in my heart.” Ironically, Jasmine fails to realise this herself and talks about the song yearningly as a symbol of her lost love.
Woody Allen’s films are often diagnosed with the inability to captivate people under 40. Labelled as “boring” or “slow”, most of his films go unnoticed to young moviegoers. Where there used to be a generation eager to see the latest Allen film, there is now a generation eager to avoid it.
This might well be because cinema has changed a lot since the 70s and 80s, while Woody Allen has chosen to stay true to his style – troubled, yet resolute and witty characters, poignant dialogue-driven storylines, skin-crawlingly dry humour, and, above all, quiet philosophising on what is right and what is wrong. Maybe in a decade of explosion-driven Michael Bay films, this formula no longer works.
It might equally be the case that the problem doesn’t lay with our attention spans, but rather with the director himself. Maybe Woody Allen has in fact exhausted his creative potential and is now doomed to repeat the same dull and dusty steps. Maybe his films really are riddled with tiresome clichés that our generation no longer finds relevant or interesting. How many self-obsessed, neurotic, emotionally dysfunctional characters does the world really need?
Either way, if you forgive ‘Blue Jasmine’ for the slow pace, some mild moralising and an overall lack of inane chase scenes and actually try to enjoy it for what it is – a story – you might find yourself mesmerised by Allen’s one absolutely indisputable quality: his superb storytelling.