After making a handful of genial comedies in the early 70s, Woody Allen shot Annie Hall in 1976. Which was supposed to have centred around the comedic figure of Allen. But when test audiences responded so warmly to the romantic chemistry between he and Diane Keaton, they scheduled significant re-shoots and the whole film was re-edited as a romantic comedy.
And for the next 20 years, Allen made a succession of intelligent, personal, warm and occasionally poignant personal dramas, the vast majority of which were romantic comedies, with the emphasis, as it always should be, on the Romance. These were interspersed with the occasional pure drama, centred around a series of female protagonists.
Films like Zelig (’83) The Purple Rose Of Cairo (’85), Hannah and Her Sisters (’96) and Bullets Over Broadway (’94), and then September (’87), Another Woman (’88) and Alice (’90). Nearly all of them were wonderful. Manhattan (’79) was a masterpiece. And Crimes and Misdemeanors (‘89) a minor one.
But from Mighty Aphrodite in 1995 on, his muse deserted him. Sure there was Sweet And Lowdown in 1999. And Vicky Cristina Barcelona is lovely to look at.
But for the last 20 years or so, we’ve all been waiting in the vain hope that it might, just might belatedly return. Or that at the very least, he might slow down and think a bit more clearly and carefully before embarking so pointlessly on his next film.
Incredibly, and to pretty much everyone’s complete surprise, he’s done exactly that. Blue Jasmine isn’t just the best thing he’s done in 20 years, a barbed compliment if ever there were one. This could comfortably sit with any of those films he was making in the mid 1980s.
It’s an occasionally rye but mostly poignant portrait of a society woman, Cate Blanchett, who has fallen spectacularly from grace. We move back and forth between the present, and the events that led to her fall in the past, as she tries to pick herself back up off the floor and start all over again.
Whilst not an actual adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire, the film shadows Tennessee William’s iconic play almost scene by scene. And yet curiously, far from detract from the film, this merely serves to further add a sense of doom and foreboding.
All of the cast are foot perfect. Blanchett, obviously. But Alec Baldwin too, as the Bernie Madoff type that she was married to, Sally Hawkins as her sister and Bobby Cannavale as the latter’s latest beau.
Very unusually, this is a film that actually delivers on all the hype it’s been generating.
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