If you haven’t seen Bob Weide’s Woody Allen documentary, I heartily recommend it. Even if you’re not a fan of Allen’s films, it’s a fascinating if lengthy doc, and a reminder that this is a man who at his best, is nothing short of genius. Of course with an output of one film a year, some of them are going to be duds, and he’s had his fair share of those. Recently a bit more than his fair share, to be honest. And when you watch Weide’s film, there’s a poignant sense that maybe his best years are behind him.
But wait a minute. Just when it’s all gone a bit ‘move along, there’s nothing to see’, along comes Blue Jasmine. Whether making the documentary woke something in Allen that had been lying a bit dormant, whether heading back to the US to film inspired him, or whether he was just teasing us with the bad films safe in the knowledge he had a few corkers still in the bag… whatever, this is right up there with some of his best.
Blue Jasmine is essentially a character study of a woman trying to survive her own personal fallout from America’s financial meltdown, clinging on to her privileged life by her manicured fingertips. In the meantime, broke and in the throes of a nervous breakdown, she arrives in San Francisco to stay with her adopted sister Ginger, in her ‘homey’ apartment in San Francisco. Their relationship has been more than a bit strained since Jasmine’s husband Ponzied Ginger’s ex-husband’s $200k lottery winnings.
Cate Blanchett is being hotly tipped for some Oscar jollies for her shattering portrayal of Jasmine, and rightly so. It’s a superb performance, capturing the struggle to keep up appearances of someone who is addicted to drama, pills and alcohol, while keeping a lid on some serious mental health issues. It will give you a knot in your stomach for pretty much the entire film. But the entire cast are strong, from Sally Hawkins as the put upon but eternally good-natured Ginger, to Bobby Cannavale as her sweaty vested lover (frankly he can do no wrong in my eyes) and even Andrew Dice Clay surprises as Ginger’s hard done by ex husband. There’s also a great little cameo from Louis CK, though I would have liked to see more of him. There’s an electricity buzzing among the cast, it feels like they all realised this is Good Woody, and stepped up their game accordingly.
Word is clearly out on this one, there have been sellouts in screens across London and the packed audience I saw it with obviously loved it, though I heard a few less than favourable comments about the ending. But you know what – that’s life, sometimes there isn’t a perfect ending.
I’d not long seen Robert Weide’s masterful Woody Allen documentary when I saw this, it’s a wonderful film and I would urge anyone tempted to see To Rome With Love to divert course accordingly. Weide’s film reminds you what a consummate film maker and comedian Allen is, and takes you on a journey through his best work. He does touch on the tailing off of Allen’s talents in recent years, but then we had the sublime Midnight in Paris which left a bit of hope that he might after all have something left in the pot. He made Owen ‘Penis Nose’ Wilson likeable for goodness’ sake. So there’s always a bit of hope when a new one comes along that it might be a hit rather than the all too frequent misses. Not this time, sadly.
The drive to be constantly working seems to have drained much of Woody Allen’s ability to see beyond cliché. And To Rome is full of them. It’s the sort of portmanteau film where you expect Walter Matthau to pop up guffawing at some point and wink knowingly at the camera. Allen tells us four unconnected stories – one a comment on the vacuity of modern fame (no shit sherlock), one a joke about singing in the shower that would only have been mildly funny as a comedy sketch, another a kind of ‘and then my trousers fell off’ story about newlyweds and the fourth the tale of an unfaithful boyfriend which has the benefit of Alec Baldwin, but wastes this in turning him into some sort of irritating speaking conscience. Penelope Cruz us similarly wasted in the age-old tart with a heart role. And indie darling Greta Gerwig is most wasted of all in a role where she is required to do nothing except look a bit peeved.
It’s not the worst thing ever, and it filled a couple of hours on a wet afternoon. In fact the couple sitting behind me laughed loud and long throughout, which wasn’t irritating at all. But it’s so far from Woody at his best that you have to wonder whether Midnight was a fluke.