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Blue Jasmine (9/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 98 minutes.

OK for children.

Writer/director Woody Allen went through a 40 year apprenticeship before he finally got it right. He had some movies I liked, like Annie Hall, but for me he was moviedomís answer to Ernest Hemingway in that his mystique was his life and potential, but his work didnít measure up. It seemed as if I always looked forward to his movies but generally came away disappointed.

However, a few years ago when he moved his locations to Europe, he seemed to bloom, producing one entertaining movie after another. He just seems to get better and better.

This one finds him returned from his European setting, relocated in San Francisco, with a story of a dysfunctional Cate Blanchett who finds her life turned topsy-turvy when her husband, Alec Baldwin, gets indicted and goes to jail.

Typically Allen, itís a light-hearted, comedic look at serious problems as Blanchett goes to live with her sister, Sally Hawkins, at whom she looks down her nose after living the high life in The Hamptons with Alec. Blanchett is reflective and the movie shows her two lives, the one with Baldwin in constant flashbacks. Sally is just barely making ends meet and has a boyfriend, Bobby Cannavale, for whom Cate has even less respect than she does for Sally.

The film immediately brings to mind corrupt New York financial manager, Bernie Madoff, and his wife, but Allen denies that this is anything approaching a roman a clef. Rather, itís a commentary on choices and living with those choices. Blanchett is blind-sided by what happens to her and we see her as she has a difficult time coping with her rapid comedown.

Allen knows how to get terrific performances out of his A-list cast, who generally work for him for scale. Blanchett and Baldwin are joined by Peter Sarsgaard and Andrew Dice Clay (in a brilliant bit of casting against type), who plays Sallyís husband, and rises above all the others. Clay, who made a reputation as a rough, foul-mouthed standup comedian was floored when he was approached for the role, but he gives a terrific, sensitive performance, which is a telling commentary on Allenís judgment and talent as a director, even though he has the reputation of just letting everyone do their own thing. Heís been responsible for at least four acting Academy Awards for his actors, so he must have some influence on them.

At 37, Hawkins gets the biggest role of her career and makes the most of it. She takes this part and makes it her own. While Blanchett gives an award-quality performance, the screen really lights up when Hawkins appears. There are so many good performances in this film that it doesnít seem fair to single out one over the other. Cannavale also gives an exceptional performance, as do Sarsgaard and Louis C.K., who hits on Sally near the end of the film.

The dialogue is as good as any Allen has written, and recently heís written some very good scripts. The music is nothing short of fantastic. There is no credit for score or music supervisor. I contacted the production company to find out who was responsible for the music. The answer came back that there is no music credit. All I can figure is that Woody picked it and just didnít give himself a credit. Whatever the reason, the music is a big part of the enjoyableness of the film.

Maybe this wonít be the huge hit that Midnight in Paris was, but it is one of Allenís best.

July 16, 2013