Wow, I’d read great things about Woody Allen’s latest and was psyched to see his return to form — and return to the States, after nearly a decade of mostly European shoots. Which is why I felt like I must’ve stumbled into the wrong theater as I watched the sloppy, misanthropic sitcom that is Blue Jasmine. If last year’s To Rome With Love is the sorriest comedy of Allen’s career, this is his most seriously flawed serious film.
I know I’ve already said it, but wow. I can’t wrap my head around the praise Allen’s 44th movie has earned. I thought maybe I’d missed something, so I watched it again. Nope. When is a reviewer going to state the painfully obvious — that, at almost 80, Allen may have reached the point where it’s time either to slow down or to hang it up?
In 1999, Randy Newman recorded a song that’s apropos for the state of the director’s career. Written in the voice of an over-the-hill rocker who doesn’t realize it’s time to get off the road, it’s called “I’m Dead”:
When will I end this bitter game?
When will I end this cruel charade?
Everything I write all sounds the same
Each record that I’m making
Sounds like a record that I made
Just not as good.
The chorus goes:
I’m dead but I don’t know it
(He’s dead. He’s dead).
Please don’t tell me so.
It’s time someone told Allen so, because he clearly doesn’t know it, and the words “bitter” and “cruel” couldn’t be more applicable to this half-baked riff on A Streetcar Named Desire updated for the age of Bernie Madoff. There isn’t a sympathetic character in sight. Or one remotely resembling an actual human being.
Cate Blanchett stars in the Blanche DuBois-inspired title role. A former Park Avenue power wife, Jasmine lost everything (including her mind) when her husband (Alec Baldwin) was imprisoned for financial funny business. As the film opens, she finds herself in San Francisco depending on the kindness of virtual strangers — her working-class sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), and her grease-monkey boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale) — who’ve agreed to put Jasmine up.
There’s the germ of an intriguing idea in there — the notion of Blanche/Jasmine’s downfall as a metaphor for the country’s economic collapse — and I’m in favor of anyone inclined to remind a 21st-century audience of Tennessee Williams’ genius. The problem is, Allen’s grown lazy and sour. Almost everything he does these days cynically recycles themes he explored with greater depth and elegance in the past.
It wasn’t even that long ago that he made Match Point (2005), a drama likewise dealing with a woman on the verge and with class distinctions. That was subtle, masterful filmmaking. In Blue Jasmine, however, when the director revisits this territory, he settles for work that’s ramshackle and cartoonish. Though he’s set the tale in the Bay Area, for example, everyone with the exception of Blanchett talks like they just walked off the set of “Jersey Shore.”
Not much of consequence happens, either: Jasmine grows bitter and chugs Stoli like it’s Perrier. The drunker and more delusional she gets, the crueler she is to her hosts. At times she’s nearly as contemptuous of these blue-collar caricatures as their creator is. I can’t recall a picture in which Allen displayed less empathy for his characters.
It’s like an episode of “The King of Queens” or “The Honeymooners,” only the schlubs never say anything funny — and the snob wouldn’t know it if they did, because she’s too busy flashing back to parties in the Hamptons and talking to herself. All I know is that Blue Jasmine is 98 minutes of meaningless tedium with delusions of cinematic significance. And all I can say is, wow.