I’m not the first to state this opinion, but it’s true: I like Woody Allen movies when they’re funny. They can be dramatic, they can be profound, but my favorites of Allen’s movies (Annie Hall, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Midnight in Paris) get to their drama and profundity through comedy.
Blue Jasmine, Allen’s latest movie and the 43rd in his long career, is not a comedy. Not a comedy is preferable to a bad comedy, and Allen’s certainly made several of the latter, so experimenting with the former is far from the worst thing he can do. But it’s also far from the best. Without his sense of humor working in tandem with a strong story, he’s just not that much of a director.
He can write, though, and he’s good with actors, so in the middle of this not-particularly-engaging movie are some fascinatingly conceived characters. Cate Blanchett’s Jasmine owns the movie and is the reason to see it if you’re going to see it. She’s part Blanche DuBois, part female Woody Allen, part Bergman heroine in distress. Her layers and layers of psychological problems provide a point of serious intrigue in an otherwise mundane film, sometimes sad (repeating the same stories to herself over and over), sometimes disturbing (her revealing talk with her nephews at the dinner), sometimes, very welcomely in this film, funny (taking computer classes to learn how to take design classes online). It becomes hard to tell how much the world has destroyed her and how much she’s destroyed herself.
Sally Hawkins as Jasmine’s sister Ginger gets less development but she’s a sympathetic presence, lower-class and more together than her sibling but experiencing some similar problems. Andrew Dice Clay proves himself a better actor than anyone probably thought he could be as Ginger’s ex-husband Augie. Alec Baldwin as Jasmine’s financial criminal husband Hal gives the movie a bit of a topical edge, in a backstory told in flashbacks. It’s structured solidly and has some good passages of dialogue and monologue, but the movie could seriously use a bit more life. If it’s going to be all serious, it should have gone for the intensity and weirdness of the best Bergman films. I think Woody Allen would be the first to agree with me that he’ll never live up to his directing idol, but if he had to go so serious, I wish he came a bit closer. If that couldn’t work out, he could, you know, go back to being funny.