But then the super-prolific writer/director auteur “fell in love” with his then-girlfriend Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter, Soon-Yi, when he was 56 and she was 20, and a sister to his and Mia’s own young biological son.
He claimed that he didn’t see what the big deal was: he “could have met her at a party,” he said with astounding tone-deafness, if not outright perviness.
And at that point, I, like a lot of his audience, took a breather from the Woody worship.
Still, he managed to soldier through a trial and execute a tremendous job of damage control. He married Soon-Yi, for better or worse, and they are still married and have adopted two daughters. And he never stopped making movies, turning out one a year. Deftly, not defiantly, he kept his floppy-hatted head down and worked his way out of his self-made mess.
Like many other previously creeped-out viewers, I returned to seeing Allen’s movies after he started shooting in foreign locales, as he did in London with “Match Point,” and Spain for “Vicki Christina Barcelona." Having unexpected cast members like Penelope Cruz liven up these more exotic cultures made some of his creaky dialogue and old-school sensibilities seem somehow less dated.
So with all the advance raves that came the Woodman’s way with his latest release, “Blue Jasmine,” I was psyched to see it.
It opened in New York and Los Angeles last weekend to record box-office numbers, and should be in about 1,000 theaters by Aug. 23.
Indeed, the film’s debut in New York City seemed to bring back the excitement of the ancient, pre-Internet movie-going experience: tickets for shows sold out hours ahead of time, and ticket holders’ lines snaked around the block. I even heard that Seinfeldian arguments broke out inside various theaters over the erroneous holding of seats and whose sweater was put down where as an illegal seat marker.
Some of the swooning critics ascribed the huge turnout to a pent-up urge to see an adult movie, sans explosions, car chases, or bathroom jokes.
There are perhaps two jokes in the whole movie, actually. But certainly, Cate Blanchett is luminous. Her clearly Oscar-worthy performance justifies the price of a ticket. She inhabits the character of Jasmine, nee Jeanette, who clutches her saddle-colored Hermes Kelly bag tightly to her body as she loses everything from her former life as a younger, WASPier and more glamorous version of Mrs. Bernie Madoff.
Blanchett, who played the famous basket case Blanche Du Bois in a New York production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” in 2009, shows up as the over-Xanaxed, vodka-swilling, modern-day version of William’s delusional character.
These days especially, with our no-middle-class economy, we love a fallen princess — and Allen gets all the details, especially of her wardrobe, right. A deconstruction of wealth is always fascinating, and there’s a certain amount of schadenfreude in seeing such a transparent social climber get hers. Alec Baldwin plays Jasmine’s lying, cheating, and Ponzischeming husband.
But, unfortunately, that’s where any link to reality in the script ends. Otherwise, it’s a complete caricature, like a Depression-era movie with only condescension for the working man.
Plus, not one woman in this Woodymade universe holds a professional job; we see only uniformed maids and supermarket checkout clerks. It’s not much better for the men. They are either good-hearted but violent blue-collar lugs — (does anyone even call a mechanic a “grease monkey” anymore?) — or clueless masters of the universe.
There are many odd things in “Blue Jasmine,” but a big baffler is why Woody set the story in San Francisco. It’s not as if he fell in love with the city visually, and wanted to promote its quirks and its beauty, as he did with Manhattan. We see only Jasmine’s sister’s walk-up apartment in the Mission District (not half-bad, actually — way bigger than her salary would justify), or Jasmine’s would-be boyfriend’s oceanfront Gatsby-like manse in Marin.
In Woody’s city by the bay, working-class men have Brooklyn accents and tempers, and upper-class men work for the State Department. Silicon Valley, apparently, does not exist.
Indeed, although the opening scene shows Jasmine using her smartphone, she ends up going to a dreary, three-month night course to “learn computers” so she can take an online course in home decoration. I was surprised that no one communicated by telegram.
Meanwhile, Jasmine and her sister Ginger, played by Sally Hawkins as a spandex- and sex-loving, lower-class sprite, bear no physical resemblance, and that’s because they were both adopted by the same parents. That’s exactly what Allen and Soon-Yi have done. One of their daughters came from China and the other one from Texas.
Exploring the movie sisters’ backstory seems like a huge missed opportunity. The only explanation given for where they are today is Ginger saying that Jasmine was her mother’s favorite because she had “better DNA.”
That’s a shame. The story of the sisters’ origins could have been the whole movie. Allen must know a lot about the psychological underpinnings of adoption, family origins, and the art of denial and compartmentalization.
But that’s a story he refuses to get into — even by telegraph.