Here we go again. The black screen with the white credits in the same old font, the jazz music, and the impressive cast list. It’s the new Woody Allen film, complete with film critics falling over themselves to tell us that – at last – this a return to form. The RTF that has occurred annually since 1876. The truth? It’s better, without actually being good.
The reason it’s better than average is a) because the plot is pinched from A Streetcar Named Desire and b) Cate Blanchett tackles the role of a modern day Blanche DuBois with exhilarating brilliance. It’s worth going to see the film for her – and her alone.
She plays a woman called Jasmine (her real name is Jeanette) who has been married for many years to a rich financial dynamo called Hal (Alec Baldwin) who turns out to have been a crook and a womaniser (anyone who had seen Baldwin in any other films would have spotted this probability). He’s been busted, she’s got no money, and so she comes to stay with her adoptive sister (Sally Hawkins), who lives in cheerful working class poverty (or Allen’s idea of poverty) in San Francisco with two plump sons and a worthy but greasy bloke, who rather resents Jasmine’s intrusion into their idyll. You can’t blame him, because Jasmine belittles him, and tells her sister that she could do better. This is the same sister who she ignored and despised when she was rich, and whose money her husband spent (having promised to make him a 20% profit).
Jasmine is not a sympathetic character. And that’s an understatement. But since she is the only character in whom the film is interested, we are forced to pay attention to her neediness, her delusions, her vanity and her failure to learn from experience. Jasmine is who we are stuck with. Everyone else exists as a background to her story, and as a result, they don’t begin to resemble real people, not even real people in movies. Take Ginger, Jasmine’s sister. As played by Sally Hawkins, she is less of a person, and more of a series of caricatures. She is not that bright, her children are fat, she works in a supermarket, she likes older men who look as though they use engine oil on their hair, and she lets her sister put her down the whole time. In her own way she’s as idiotic as Jasmine, but in Allen’s conception, she’s authentic and worthy and only finds happiness when she goes back to where she was in the first place.
The problem with Allen’s films, even the less awful ones like this, is that he has two major failings; he can’t write and he can’t direct. There used to be a third, which is that he couldn’t act, but he doesn’t act any more. You think I’m being unfair? Try listening to his dialogue. It’s got no flow, no rhythm, no poetry. It simply functions as a means to convey plot. He doesn’t know how to construct a scene. He simply plonks people in a room, a car, a house, wherever, has them recite their lines, then moves on to the next scene – usually with a bit of trad jazz as a linking device. It’s not enough. It’s lazy and that is his biggest crime. He simply doesn’t take the time to compose a script which has the necessary subtleties and ambiguities; he doesn’t take the time to compose scenes in an organic and unusual way; and he edits with a chopping knife.
I’m saying this because he is a guy who has been making films for nearly fifty years, has won a lot of Oscars, attracts A List actors, and is regarded as a Great Director. For me, his best days are long behind him, and even when he makes a slight recovery – as with this film – it’s built on the back of other people’s talent, not his own genius.
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