Woody & 'Blue Jasmine': Secrets & Lies

I used to be such a fan of Woody Allen’s that, to paraphrase one of the inspired bits in “Annie Hall,” I didn’t just love him, I leafed him, I loofed him, I luurrrved him.

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.

21 comments about "Woody & 'Blue Jasmine': Secrets & Lies".
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  1. Barbara Lippert from, August 5, 2013 at 10:04 a.m.

    Thanks, Bob. Woody is 77, and this is an amazing achievement, and as everyone always says "It's only a movie!" But it is fascinating how he puts bits and pieces of his own life in these things-- but doesn't go any further in working it out.

  2. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, August 5, 2013 at 10:20 a.m.

    BEST to just appreciate the work of artists. And ignore their lives.
    I remember an essay Hugh Kenner wrote about Ezra Pound, and although Pound was impenetrable for me (other than his wonderful limerick about Joyce's lead character: There once was a lounger named Stephen/Whose youth was most odd and uneven/He throve on the smell/Of a horrible Hell/That a Hottentot wouldn't believe in), Kenner wrote of the separation between the art and his politics or his personal life or even his mental condition.
    This is not an argument to elect Weiner mayor as his politics and his personal life make him ill suited to office, whether higher or lower. I am going to see the Allen movie today (hope they Peanut Chews, but despair all they will have is M&M's and a desire to upgrade the popcorn size and the Coke re-fills) and will get my senior discount and think of all the dingbats (Salinger, Dali, Roth, Rand, Brando, Gibson) whose work I enjoyed.

  3. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, August 5, 2013 at 10:24 a.m.

    There never was a middle class in America. Class is not a measurement here. Income is, I suppose, as middle income can be quantified. Interesting that both Romney and Axelrod like the divide argument. Romney with his 47% line; Axelrod with the Two Americas themes he gave to both Edwards running for President and Ferrer running for Mayor with the Two New Yorks argument.

  4. Edmund Singleton from Winstion Communications, August 5, 2013 at 10:36 a.m.

    Am I missing something; what does ones personal life have to do with ones art?

  5. Dean Fox from ScreenTwo LLC, August 5, 2013 at 10:58 a.m.

    Thank you, Barbara, as usual you've hit the nail on the head. After reading the SF Chronicle's orgasmic review by Mick Lasalle, we couldn't wait to see Blue Jasmine. What a disappointment! Other than Ms. Blanchett's terrific performance, despite the stilted, ridiculous dialog and wooden plotting, this movie is a charmless disaster. Two-dimensional characters, pointless story, zero character development.

    Don't waste your money to see this movie.

  6. sabina clarke from SLC Communications, August 5, 2013 at 11:13 a.m.

    This review is a bit confusing- nothing about Alec Baldwin's performance-also the backstory of the two sisters as a theme to be explored-misses the crux of the story --that the central character Cate Blanchett embodies and what drives home the point Woody Allen was attempting to explore. The sisters disparate backgrounds as a central theme of the movie would be so trite. I have not seen the movie yet--but may -particularly now-and not because of this review but for other reasons including the reviewer's failure to make her point --if she has a point to make.

  7. Barbara Lippert from, August 5, 2013 at 1:11 p.m.

    Dean-- yes, lots of reviewers were absolutely orgasmic over Woody's comeback and thrilling to it. Sabina-- on the one hand, He has brought moviegoers back. On the other, I found the plot (other than the main character) so annoying. That tedious "computer class" like from 1982. The idea that a guy in Marin wouldn't check out this woman on Google. Etc. Etc. Or that she cold work in a dentist's office because they have never heard of computers. So it was a bit of a mixed review-- should have made a stronger negative point, I guess.

  8. George Parker from Parker Consultants, August 5, 2013 at 5:10 p.m.

    As Usual, Tom his the rusty nail on the head with his Titanium hammer (I just made that up... Not bad after a couple of Idaho Potato belts) No, he is correct, all the good artists of whatever discipline were insane. Especially if they cut their ear off. I always love to tell the story of dining at L'Etoille with my wife (thank God) long before most of your readers were born... In walks Salvador Dali. Top hat, cape, silver topped cane... And two fucking ocelots on a leash. All three sat at a table and enjoyed excellent service, as the Maitre D explained to me later... Mr Dali never dines alone. Unfortunately, that kind of behavior rarely happens these days. Justin Bieber's abandonment of his monkey in Germany doesn't count.

  9. Barbara Lippert from, August 5, 2013 at 6:31 p.m.

    Yes, George. As Dali said, "I don't do drugs-- I am drugs!"

  10. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, August 5, 2013 at 8:15 p.m.

    So I went to see the movie. And I have to say--I don't have to actually but something presses me onward to comment. Demographic at the 3:50 show on 86th Street old enough to put me in the kids' section. There was a moment of genius. When we heard Trixie Smith....singing My Man Rocks Me....89 years ago she recorded is genius truly. I really liked the movie. All the actors except the Dentist were extraordinary. If directing is casting, Allen did a phenomenal job. Weak cinematography. Allen must miss Gordon Willis. Hot light in San Francisco; better shooting in New York.

  11. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, August 5, 2013 at 8:17 p.m.

  12. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, August 6, 2013 at 8:40 a.m.

    if anybody reading this goes to the see the film, stay for the appeared to me that trixie smith and her song were not credited.....could be because the copyright ran out...i suppose.....or my eyes are too slow to catch five titles on a screen at once...

  13. George Parker from Parker Consultants, August 6, 2013 at 9:24 a.m.

    Perhaps Tom should do your next column... Then you and I can do all the witty and insightful comments. Tough to match up to Tom's standards though!

  14. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, August 6, 2013 at 11:06 a.m.

    I checkED out credits on imdb (whatever that stands for) and here is trixie's
    credit line (I MUST HAVE missed it in the theater)
    My Baby Sends Me
    aka "My Daddy Rocks Me (Part 1)"
    Composed by J. Berni Barbour
    Performed by Trixie Smith
    Courtesy of The Verve Music Group
    Under license from Universal Music Enterprises

  15. George Parker from Parker Consultants, August 6, 2013 at 1:51 p.m.

    The man is a fucking trove of information you and I would not even know where to begin digging for. Much more fun than all this advertising shit... As I point out on "AdScam" with the totally expected news that Draft/FCB has retained the KMart account... No wonder "I Ship My Pants." It's over... Let's go to the movies.

  16. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, August 6, 2013 at 3:36 p.m.

    george was probably the first teddy boy in advertising....

  17. Feminista Fan from The Past, Present and Future, August 6, 2013 at 4:52 p.m.

    SPEAKING OF LINES...As I stood in line to see this film it dawned on me that I have not stood in line to see a movie in a couple of decades. Besides hard core Batman and Lord of the Rings fans, Woody fans are the only movie go-ers who will still wait an hour to get into a theater. I am sure that says something about the state of cinema in America circa 2013 but I am not sure what. Maybe Barbara can explain it to me?

    Thank you for mentioning the lost opportunity to mine the subject of adoptive sisterhood and parental favoritism. I was hoping we would get more on this.

  18. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, August 6, 2013 at 6:15 p.m.

    did the san francisco sister have a Jewish star in one of the scenes? perhaps fandango has reduced lines, but this film was marketed like an old sam levene film from the 60s.......just a few theaters generating lines and talk......then a wider opening.....not often done these days but worked for the graduate in 1967.............

  19. Barbara Lippert from, August 8, 2013 at 10:13 a.m.

    @Tom-- I think Ginger (the SF sister) was festooned with multiple necklaces in an attempt to look flaky. Didn't notice a Jewish star, but maybe the first fiery working class loser husband /boyfriend with a Brooklyn accent was supposed to be a member of the tribe?

  20. Barbara Lippert from, August 9, 2013 at 12:42 p.m.

    @Feminista-- Funny that you mention being aware of standing in line for the first time in decades. Most of the people on line were probably such knowing Woody fans that they were thinking of that iconic scene in Annie Hall where a big jerk is pontificating to his girlfriend about the theories of Marshall McLuhan. Woody can't stand it anymore, and poof, makes McLuhan himself appear in the flesh to tell the guy, "you know nothing of my work!"

  21. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, August 9, 2013 at 5 p.m.

    probably people stand "on line" for an allen movie, by the way, rather than "in line" which is kind of outtatownatawk....i keep waiting for woody to do a joke about someone with a 15 room apartment that's under rent control...that was the mia farrow domicile.....but i guess he has too much class for that.........

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