Every Woody Allen movie contains at least one moment that is better than anything you'll find in any other movie you'll see that year. It's usually a stellar snippet of surprising camera work that shows Allen at the top of his game, crystallizing ideas with assured visual vocabulary and panache.
This is worth noting in his less satisfying efforts, like Anything Else—where the key moment is a drive around a city block shot in one intense close-up—as well as his more successful films, like his new one. Blue Jasmine never feels rushed, and throughout its lively pace Allen is doing a lot of things as well as he's ever done them, in addition to some things he's never done before.
After 44 films, Woody Allen's work is too vast to accommodate generalizations, but his cinematic New York has always felt awash in wealth, a place where all problems are either romantic or philosophical, never economic. This time around, however, his vision of gilded Manhattan is turned up to 11, and it's almost like parody: The Ralph Lauren shirts seem even crisper, the Park Avenue apartment even more luxurious, the Hamptons weekend home a grotesque indulgence.
It's no coincidence that the plot involves a Madoff-like pyramid scheme that has brought down Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), her husband (Alec Baldwin) and countless others along with it. The unforgiving American economy—and, more important, the sinister inequality and unfairness that creates it—has finally caught up with Allen's universe. Most of the movie doesn't even take place in New York, as Jasmine has to move to San Francisco to crash with her sister (Sally Hawkins) and try a new start. (This is a return home of sorts for Allen, a native New Yorker who made his first film in the City by the Bay.)
As for the conditions that have carried his protagonist 3,000 miles from home, Allen underlines the way Jasmine, who considers herself an innocent bystander of her husband's wrongdoing, looked the other way while he was getting filthy and illegally wealthy. In Blue Jasmine, Allen has no sympathy for the rich, and for the first time, he seems to understand some of the hardship suffered by the working class.
But the movie follows Jasmine, and this movie is, like Alice and Another Woman before it, a close character study. Allen fans should notice the ways in which it's a blend of those movies. The film's concern with the jobless Jasmine and the wealth she's married into serves as a parallel to Alice, but with heavier social critique and less whimsy. The way Jasmine leaves people suffering in her wake mirrors Another Woman, but with a lighter touch and more attention to the charms of the supporting characters.
Unlike what he did in another of his character studies, Melinda and Melinda, Allen is not breaking apart the serious and the amusing; he's putting them side by side, from moment to moment, scene to scene. The opening of the film, for instance, shifts from pleasant small talk on an airplane between Jasmine and another passenger to an uncomfortable image of desperation by the time they're at baggage claim. It's there in the way Jasmine's sister navigates her love life with a romantic's optimism combined with a seemingly contradictory tendency toward frank assessment of reality. And Allen surprises us with his moving depiction of macho characters played by Bobby Cannavale, who's tender even while he's ripping phones out of the wall, and Andrew Dice Clay, who (with Allen's script) delivers a compassionate portrait of someone wounded by financial difficulty.
The way Allen strikes this poignant tone, with a sharp eye toward social realism and a softer embrace of bourgeois comforts simultaneously, gives Blue Jasmine meaning, heart and its best material. Near the end, watch the way the camera moves from a happy couple to a distraught woman, and you'll see an unparalleled artist at work, doing some of the finest filmmaking you'll see all year, and serving up some of the best stuff he's made in nearly 50 years of astonishing moviemaking.
This article appeared in print with the headline "All that fall."