Allen’s late period is not too different from his ‘experimental’ stage, save for two crucial differences: the comedies tend to be some of the more interesting (albeit far lesser) films he’s done compared to the prior decade, and that he’d go on to make three pure dramas in less than eight years, two of which rival his very best output from his Golden Age. It is also a time of significant retreads, for even when such ‘borrowings’ end up doing a lot of good -- Match Point, or even Vicky Cristina Barcelona -- the source is clear, much to the (misplaced) disappointment of critics.
Although Woody Allen has always used and reused themes and ideas, Match Point (2005) was the first example of such taken to an extreme, wherein similar ideas (murder, chance, amorality) play out within similar characters (an ‘unsavory’ type turned sociopath; a spurned lover), down to a defining moment of death, the increased agitation of the mistress, and the film’s protagonist confiding in one person as if experiencing some personal ‘confusion,’ yet clearly having come to a decision long ago. But while Match Point is a slightly lesser reworking of Crimes and Misdemeanors, among others, it is a truly excellent film, with a new setting, good acting, fresh cinematography (literally, as Remi Adefarasin’s camera work looks quite ‘clean’), and easily belongs in the top 10 or 15 of all Woody films -- all the more impressive given that, by 2005, Allen’s ‘Golden Age’ was long finished, and he’d been stuck to light comedies and second-tier ‘experimental’ work for years. It is also Allen’s first ‘pure’ drama since Another Woman, and given that Allen’s two worst dramas (September, Blue Jasmine) were still good to very good films despite being over a quarter-century apart, this only reinforces the idea of where Allen’s strengths lie, and suggests the possibility of similarly ‘mature’ work in the future.
That said, the film does have its flaws, even if they are not the flaws that have been claimed. Yes, the film is a reworking of better, earlier work, yet the re-working itself is quite good, obviating any need to critique the film’s sourcing. A bigger issue is Nola (Scarlett Johansson), who’s been cast as a ‘sex goddess’ type, yet without the sex appeal to truly pull it off. Yes, she is quite pretty to look at, but such things are immaterial to sexiness, which invokes a completely different set of quanta. The more relevant point is that, looks aside, her ‘flirting’ scenes with Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) are as cliched as can be, as she keeps her face down, speaks in near-whispers, and ‘makes eyes’ over a wine glass, thus revealing the film’s arc from the start. This is not ‘sexy,’ merely aggressive, for 'sexy' implies genuine eroticism, a push-and-pull exchange wherein there’s little idea of what comes next, boundaries (as with Rain in Husbands and Wives), not an unsubtle, abject willingness to simply give. Yet an even bigger issue is Chris’s own arc. Despite being a sociopath from the very beginning, he is forced into ‘projections’ of the murdered Nola (as well as her neighbor) near the end, wherein their apparitions speak of guilt and his supposed “desire” to get caught -- clear psychobabble, as he most certainly does not have that wish, and the fact that these are, ostensibly, his own thoughts, makes it even less consistent with his true character, and satisfies on neither logical nor symbolic levels.
One may wonder at the characters’ pretentions regarding the arts and the like, and therefore their realism, but while such charges are true, they are precisely what the word implies: pretensions, not serious engagement with the arts, as we never hear one character utter a single insightful thing about music, painting, or literature, despite always going through the motions, such as in Nola’s acting career, and Chris even reading a kind of Cliff’s Notes to Crime and Punishment early on in the film. It is a reality, then, as common to New York phonies as it is to those in London. If anything, the film only further evokes the hyperreality of ‘types’ like in Allen’s earlier work, even as it plays with genre tropes and expectations in utterly novel ways. In fact, one of the film’s best genre inversions is near the end, as one of the detectives dreams one night and finally ‘gets it,’ explaining Chris’s murder exactly as it happened (leaving out, by the way, any motive regarding pregnancy, thus casting doubt on Nola’s motives), and it finally seems like he’ll get caught. Not so, however, as the other detective says a transient was picked up who not only had a string of prior convictions, but the old woman’s stolen ring in his pocket. So, whom does the law go with: a logical target, completely in line with the evidence at hand, or a clean-cut rich guy from an officer’s silly dream? No, none of the film’s flaws are a deal-breaker, but even if it’s a terrific film, it is not career-defining, either. If anything, it polishes Allen’s career, deepens it, even, via a clever mix of circles and asides almost never seen from a filmmaker this late in life.
Coming off the superb Match Point, Allen’s next film, Scoop (2006), is significantly lighter than 2005’s effort, but significantly better than the exceedingly low reviews might suggest. It’s been attacked for its script, acting, characters, visuals, plotting, and pretty much anything else, really, that makes a film, well, a film. But as a comedy, it’s fairly original work, and certainly less ‘circle’ than ‘aside,’ for it plays with genre tropes, conventions, and inverts cliches, all the while using some good (not great) characters, excellent acting, and a few stellar visuals in the process.
Scoop follows the story of Sondra (Scarlett Johansson), who is much better cast in a comic role than a sexy one, for while she uses her sex, here, to get things, they are more or less played off of her character’s geekiness. In time, she meets the ghost of Joe Strombel (Ian McShane), a dead journalist who gives her a ‘tip’ on socialite Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman), accusing him of being a well-known serial killer. She gains the assistance of Sid (Woody Allen), who becomes her mentor, as she gets close to Peter, falls in love, and eventually dismisses the idea that he’s the killer. Yet Sid is not convinced, and after overhearing a conversation between Sondra and Sid, Peter decides to kill her, and fails, all the while revealing that he’s killed only one person before, thus confirming her worst fears, and not. Although it’s been derided for its writing, the evidence does not support that claim. There’s a good back-and-forth with evidence, lots of pro and con regarding Peter’s guilt, plenty moments of suspense, and other superficial plot devices for those only able to see the ‘smaller,’ more accessible things. Far more important, however, is what the film does to invert the typical ‘thriller’ and ‘detective’ cliches within its narrative arc. Probably the most obvious of these is the fact that while Peter is not the Tarot card killer, who is apparently caught, he is still ‘a’ killer. In most works, the absolution of guilt in the film’s prime mystery simply means the narrative is over, but not in Scoop, for Allen continues to play with genre tropes and expectations to the very end. Peter is neither the killer we expect him to be, nor the killer of Sid’s or Sondra’s imaginations, nor even a man of vengeful ‘mommy issues,’ as the film once suggests; and yet, seemingly against all logic, he is still guilty. This is simply good writing, and helps the film be much more than a mere genre work.
Although 2005’s Match Point was well-received, with some critics going as far as calling it Woody’s greatest film, Cassandra’s Dream (2007) was not. In some ways, this proves the fickleness that dominates critical discourse, for while the earlier film was terrific in its re-workings of Crimes and Misdemeanors, as well as the application of new locales, new visuals, symbols, characters, and acting styles quite different from Woody’s norm, Cassandra’s Dream is similarly good (if not better) for the same reasons, while lacking Match Point’s (minor) missteps of Johansson’s acting, and poor script choices near the 2005 film’s end.
One could point to the film’s many great visuals, scoring, and narrative details, but it is really the characters themselves, and their respective arcs, that build it up. Howard (Tom Wilkinson) is an excellent villain whose sociopathy is always bubbling underneath, only to explode in one scene -- a surprise, given how long he’s been stuck on the exteriors of his own behavior. In an ironic twist, then, he is the film’s ultimate winner, as he not only gets rid of two men ‘in’ on his secret, but also eliminates any need to return favors, which he hates to do, anyway, despite his airs of charity. Ian (Ewan McGregor), for his part, is a hopeless social climber, in love with ‘the wrong woman,’ but in need of her validation due to his emotional lacks. His own sociopathic turn is interesting, as well, for he is not so terrible throughout the film (unlike, say, Chris in Match Point, whose sociopathy is evident from the very beginning), but merely becomes so, and even relishes in the fact when he first feels the need to kill, then a further need for justifications. Of all the characters, however, Terry (Colin Farrell) is the best, a kind of ‘nobody’ who is not only a very realistic gambler and depressive (at one point, after the murder, he says he completely ‘feels’ a new rush of luck), but constantly derided, too, overtly and not. There is, for instance, a great early scene of his mother accusing him of having “no conscience,” which is, oddly enough, both true, given the murder, and not true, given the personal repercussions and his need to confess. Other bits, such as Angela’s (Hayley Atwell) own surprising turn and depth as she put downs Ian’s own immaturity after she gets over her own, or the theater performances which recapitulate some of Ian’s inner voice, help the film go even further.
As noted, the critics generally loathed the film, citing it as a mere rip-off of Allen’s earlier work, repetitious, predictable, unrealistic, and a pale replica of Match Point. Yet Howard is very unpredictable; Ian a social climber who, in a wonderful inversion, gets utterly nailed by Angela, yet in an anti-Woody touch, ‘snags the girl’ anyway; and the film’s ending completely unexpected. The title has also been attacked for its obviousness, but where, exactly, does the charge stick? Cassandra delivered prophecy, yet the film lulls you into believing its own arcs, only to subvert them at the most meaningful points, thus making it far more complex than a mere issue of ‘believability.’ Howard, too, has been derided as unrealistic, but this misses how well the kids are manipulated into feeling guilt over their refusal to commit murder, an easily-missed point that, in one deft stroke, characterizes not only them, but their relationship to ‘family,’ as well. This is not a script written to some formula, but one full of examples of nuance, poesy, and genre subversion that, while borrowing some old ideas, has enough to make them wholly new.
Luckily, Allen’s next film didn’t have to deal with such trouble, probably because one or two viewings are enough to catch all its good, and much of its bad. No, it does not come close to Match Point or Cassandra’s Dream in depth, character, or narrative, but 2008’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona is really one of Allen’s more interesting post-Golden Age films, featuring some excellent cinematography from Javier Aguirresarobe, and -- for all the thinness of character -- a sense of ‘poesy’ that, if nothing else, marks it as a film of potential, which even greater films like Zelig, Alice, or Shadows and Fog simply do not have. Let me explain. Structurally, idea-wise, narrative-wise, and so on, those works have certain ceilings that, apart from completely changing the very nature of the films, will simply never be breached. Zelig, for instance, is almost completely gag-driven; Alice gives most of its attention to a minor romance; and Shadows and Fog merely plays like a well-crafted homage, which, by that fact alone, ensures it will remain in a kind of ‘category,’ no matter how much it does, or how well. By contrast, Vicky Cristina Barcelona could have been a great film that is marred by character stereotypes, middling acting, and a script that built on its own poetry, instead of going the more typical, sillier routes. Change those individual elements, and it would be much improved, with its essence retained. As is, however, the film is ‘mere’ essence, without the flesh to make it real.
Perhaps the film’s best scenes -- and most telling of its flaws -- involve moments of genuine conflict. Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz) decides to move back in with her slimeball husband, Juan (Javier Bardem), while Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) is already in a relationship with him. The two fight about Cristina’s presence, thus invoking the stereotype of ‘hot Spanish blood,’ as the film merely devolves into screaming matches of little depth. But while critics have characterized Juan as an interesting artist, he isn't, as he’s a predictable bore (and boor!) on the one hand, and a non-artist (alongside his wife) on the other, thus deepening the stereotypes true artists tend to avoid. Had the script revolved around the characters’ actual psychology, via the draining, parasitic menage a trois the two artists and the wannabe establish for themselves, it could have been a study on people’s mass delusions, in the case of the two artists, or a Persona-esque stylization of three losers, as the parasitic Maria tries to both take the equally stereotyped Cristina’s place, both literally and not, while ‘nurturing’ her, too, as if grooming her for a role that she, herself, does not seem to understand. The film ends up doing both of these things, but neither one of them too deeply vis-a-vis its maldeveloped core. In one good scene, for instance, Maria Elena utterly nails Cristina’s posturing by asking her to speak Chinese (a language she claims to have studied), thus getting into her head, only to devolve to yet another Spanish flight of passion, with angry accusations all around, more stylish than good. Yet the film’s best scene, by far, is at its end, wherein Vicky, realizing her love for Juan Antonio, decides to go back to Barcelona, only to have the two of them get shot at by his ex-wife, leading to her richest realization. “I can’t live like this” she yells amidst the uproar, for the scene is pure poetry, as Juan and Maria are clearly damned to live their lives out within this pattern, separating, coming back together, and drawing others into their web, whether it’s merely for headlines, or entrapping those that are equally lost, like Cristina, and -- at least for a while -- Vicky.
The film’s central position is, in relation to this last scene, that people are stuck, and if they’re not cognizant, they’ll only continue to be stuck. But while great films exist arguing pro or con, Vicky Cristina Barcelona is not one of them, marred as it is not only by stereotypes, but haphazard narrative swings that could be better served by some ‘inner’ (not surface) development, rather than the easy route it often takes. But despite the fact that it was well-received, it is interesting to note that some of the film’s champions praise the very things that cheapen the film’s value: the ‘fiery’ characters, the melodramatic performance of an utter stereotype via Penelope Cruz, or even Bardem’s utter sliminess. This, in fact, is not the ‘brilliance’ that it’s been called, but mere pandering, and while it is never really becomes a soap opera, it is soap operatic in its elements, as any fan of telenovelas can conclude. For all that, however, I’d consider the film much less a circle than aside, for its issues are not its nature, and its problems simply within its elements.
Although not as good or potentially deep as the earlier film, Whatever Works (2009) is unlike the earlier duds of the same decade, and its strengths -- weaknesses, too -- are apparent from the first few minutes. Boris Yelnikoff (Larry Davis), a particle physicist, is seen arguing with a couple of friends at a cafe, as he goes off on a misanthropic rant about people’s innate badness, only to turn to the camera and explain his philosophy of “whatever works,” that one must get the little good that’s possible out of life, in a way conducive to one’s inner nature. It is sage advice, and while Boris is at once dislikable, he is also a ‘straight-talker,’ even if his monologue does go on a bit long. Already, one could see some massive borrowings, such as talking to the camera (Annie Hall), or philosophy regarding the universe’s end and the meaninglessness of existence (Hannah and Her Sisters, down to Boris’s two suicide attempts). The camera-talk is an oddly-delivered conceit, that Boris is being ‘watched’ -- meta-film? some deeper metaphor from physics? -- for while Larry Davis does an OK acting job, his friends are terrible, taking it too seriously, with neither the force nor comic timing to be taken seriously, even via farce.
As the film goes on, however, such ‘lesser’ characters end up taking center stage: Melodie’s (Evan Rachel Wood) parents come visit, and utterly derail the deeper (and better) narrative. In this way they end up supplanting Boris, a problem, given the other characters’ thinness. It doesn’t help, of course, that they are all more or less stereotypes, even if entertaining and well-sketched ones: Melodie as the impressionable Southern belle, her parents as conservative Christians denying their ‘true’ natures (her mother an over-sexed artist; her father, a closet homosexual), and Boris as, well, an old, hateful fart. Yet for all that, I disagree with some of the film’s assessments, such as the oft-repeated idea that Larry Davis can’t play Woody Allen -- a moot point, anyway, as this isn’t really the Allen persona, given the aggressiveness, endless condescension, and sheer physicality, which Allen could never do. And, despite Boris’s earlier insistence that it isn’t a “feel good” film, the ending is, in fact, a pretty ‘sweet one,’ which undermines the very credibility Boris tries to build up with the viewer, to good effect.
Yet, for all the film’s problems, it is, if nothing else, a funny, sometimes well-written film, with lines like: “I didn’t have an affair; it was a brief interlude of infidelity” (his ex-wife); “Gimme a break with your could-haves and should-haves. As my mother used to say, if my grandmother had wheels, she’d be a trolley-car” (Boris); “In America, as much as they hated blacks, they hate Jews even more. Blacks, they were scared had too big a penis; Jews they hated even with little penises” (Boris), delivered as his friends are about to leave him after he screams at a little boy’s mother for his “vegetable torpor.” Good? Quite good, in fact -- even if not especially deep, and too much a ‘circle’ for any kind of large analysis.
Some of these same issues present themselves in 2010’s You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger: nigh-stereotyped characters, predictability, filmic re-treads, choppy acting, a dearth of real visuals or poesy, and, like Anything Else and Hollywood Ending, little to no humor, despite the film’s status as a ‘dark’ comedy. Yet it is really the characters and their inner lacks that prevent this merely solid film from going too far, for good characters in Woody’s other films ooze narrative by the very fact of their existence. Oddly enough, one of the film’s deepest and best-sketched characters is also very much supporting, as Helena (Gemma Jones) visits a fortune-teller at the film’s start and reveals interesting things about herself and her surrounds via some good acting of yet another ‘nervous wreck’ of a spurned lover, only to become a comedic counterpoint to the Roy/Sally arc, peppering them with her new-found superstitions to everyone’s annoyance. One even sees Alice’s ‘magic’ in her portion of the tale, albeit exempt from the deep, well-written flashbacks that once made it justified. Roy (Josh Brolin), for his part, is the stereotypical failed, self-destructive writer, drinking too much, failing at various jobs, and cheating on his wife, while the well-sketched Sally (Naomi Watts) is, in turn, a dissatisfied and ‘wandering-eye’ spouse. But unlike, say, Interiors, wherein another bad artist, Frederick, is utterly defined by ‘moments’ such as envy over his own wife’s success, the accusations he lobs at Renata, and the genuine affection he sometimes shows, only to have it snake into self-pity, Roy is a walking, talking stereotype -- down to his ‘fiery’ look and temper, for he is a villain from start to finish and neither grows away nor from this definition in any real way.
In short, the film is full of the sort of cliches that marred Vicky Cristina Barcelona; believable cliches, mind you, and banalities that are appropriate to them, yet banalities, nonetheless. As for the film’s core? One sees stereotypes; one sees the predictability; one sees the ‘nice’ visuals, which add up to little of what’s real; one sees a handful of good scenes, with the potential for more upon re-watch. In this vein, Sally’s boss (Antonio Banderas) is a smarmy manipulator whose foreignness only exacerbates this quality, vis a vis Juan Antonio in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. And Alfie (Anthony Hopkins), in possibly the film’s worst role, is the prototypical old fart in search of youth, who now tans, lifts weights, and ultimately leaves his wife for a prostitute, Charmaine Foxx (Lucy Punch), that so utterly consumes him, there is little to no meaningful character development, as it’s simply one joke at the naive man’s expense after another. There are no real visuals, except for the banal observation that it is ‘nice’ to see a gray, well-shot London. There is no real music, except for a ‘romantic’ guitar that comes on when Roy stares out of the window at his lover. There is only middling acting, except Helena’s and Charmaine’s (who plays an ‘evil’ version of Mira Sorvino from Mighty Aphrodite), who are both good. There is nothing truly unexpected, and where surprises do occur, they are more plot devices than insights.
If Woody Allen hated the success of Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), once claiming that its popularity made him rethink the value of its art, one wonders, then, of his feelings towards the light, airy, and sometimes bad Midnight in Paris (2011), Allen’s highest grossing film to date, and one of his most well-received. No, it is not like the silly Hollywood comedies that afflict and inflict, only to be left to forgetting, but it’s dull and predictable and full of stereotypes, despite having some great cinematography. It is also subject to some of the worst ‘critical cribbing’ since Stardust Memories, wherein critics simply repeat what others have written, down to the very phrasing, and pass it off as their own insight. It’s been called “charming,” “pleasant,” “delightful,” a “love letter to Paris,” “enjoyable,” and “witty” across the board -- all interesting, hard-to-critique word-choices, but which have little to do with critical assessment, and merely reveal the writer’s own emotional biases. This is partly because the film’s central posit -- that there is no ‘Golden Age’ -- is played clumsily, wherein all the characters in the ‘real’ world are silly, manipulative losers, while Gil (Owen Wilson) is, in turn, a stereotype of a good guy who merely wants ‘in’ on the alternate reality.
In fact, the pairing of Inez (Rachel McAdams) and Gil requires the film’s first of many suspensions of disbelief: that two people completely at odds with one another in values, temperament, humor, and personal judgment could ever start dating at their age, not show any affection, endlessly snipe, then decide to get married. In short, the demand is to gloss over character, which is far less forgivable than the other, fantastical kind of disbelief, a la Planet of the Apes, for character, narrative, and insight could emerge from magic or fantasy (an interpretation of reality), but not from ill-developed human beings (a bowdlerization of reality). It follows them throughout the film, and especially jars given Owen’s hammy acting, down to his description of Inez as “pre-tee sexy” to Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), or manically trying to save himself from being ‘discovered,’ and lying so badly, yet with zero realization from the other characters, as if they are that intent to merely move the plot along. In short, Owen Wilson is a lightweight version of Woody, down to the mannerisms that are never truly challenged by anyone in the film, thus setting him up for even more unreality. Critics have praised the script, with some even calling it the best Woody Allen film in a long time, but such words ignore not only the stereotypes, cliches, and predictability of narrative and character that utterly plague the film, but also Owen’s wan, conviction-free delivery of an ‘intellectual’ that he simply does not look, think, feel, or act like. Yes, one can praise the film’s visuals (shots of Inez and her mother from behind as they talk of Gil; sudden, unexpected vistas), and even the entertaining nature of its conceits, yet to call it a good film -- much less a great one -- ignores such fundamental issues of character, narrative, and writing that the more minor successes can never make up for.
To Rome with Love (2012) is Allen’s slightest film in about a decade, not in the least due to its structure: four tangentially related tales that don’t do a whole lot in the way of visuals, narrative, or character development. The tales involve an architect who meets up with a young man falling in love with the wrong woman, and gives him advice he does not follow; a salaryman who is suddenly a celebrity; a recently married couple who get entangled in infidelities; and a bad opera director who is struck by a simple Italian man with a great singing ability -- provided he is in the shower. Yet as Jack Goodstein’s review of the film’s classic, re-recorded Italian music shows, it is hard to see it anything other than a ‘cute’ homage, for while Allen is clearly enamored with the city, the ‘why’ is never evident, nor none too deep, given how underdeveloped the film really is.
In some ways, the film’s most experimental tale is also its deepest, as Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), an architectural student, and the film’s other ‘Woody’ persona, meets John (Alec Baldwin), a well-known architect, in one of the film’s best shots, as the two pass each other by, only to stop, as if they’ve somehow exchanged essences. It makes sense, for Jack seems to be a younger John, having lived where Jack is staying now, and in the same line of work, as John takes on a role similar to Humphrey Bogart in Play It Again, Sam, appearing whenever Jack is in need of romantic advice -- which is often. As time passes, Jack starts to fall for his girlfriend’s friend, Monica, a ‘neurotic’ type replete with bad relationships, flightiness, and a self-destructive streak that Jack is immediately drawn to. They start an affair, only for it to end exactly as John predicts. This portion of the film has been called “magical realist”, but it isn’t really, for such things could merely be interpreted as John’s flashbacks, or Jack’s lack of confidence and need for a mentor, just as in the above-mentioned film. The fact that the viewer does not know what the ‘real’ answer is to this query is a nice touch, for it creates an ambiguity with multiple meanings and layers. In short, while John may very much be a fantasy, he might also be imagining much (if not all) of this sequence, himself, running into Jack as a kind of apparition he makes a sort of ‘exchange’ with, at first, and interacting with the characters within Jack’s own tale, as if they are people from his own past he merely wishes to cross-examine. Such an interpretation also best fits John’s earlier refusal to see his old street, for it brings back memories he might not truly wish to tackle, but flood back, anyway, when Jack gives him a tour. This isn’t magical, or even ‘weird,’ merely psychological and fun, especially since it’s not the only possible interpretation.
Blue Jasmine (2013) marked Woody’s third ‘pure’ drama in less than a decade, and -- like all of his dramas -- it is a good one. Billed as a 'comedy-drama,' it isn’t really, for while there are two or three funny scenes, they are all at the expense of a sick woman whose ‘humor’ is in her inability to cope with a new life, and with other people’s happiness. It is well-written, bleak, uncharacteristic, and features one of the two or three best performances in a Woody film since Sweet and Lowdown, ensuring that it will continue to be viewed for multiple reasons for years to come. That said, it is also a film that, oddly enough, does not really get better with each viewing, but rather, more visibly shows its flaws -- a first for Woody, as virtually all of his work only deepens with time.
It follows the travails of Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), the ex-wife of a jailed and rich businessman, who is suddenly down and out and comes to stay with her adoptive sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Jasmine struggles with Ginger’s ‘loser’ boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale), Ginger’s ex-husband’s resentment over her ‘theft’ of their lottery money, her inability to hold down a job, and her dishonesty towards her fiance (Peter Sarsgaard) due to the problems in her past. It is extremely well-acted all around, from the smaller moments, such as Jasmine’s nervous fumbling with her phone, to the shocks, such as her boss’s growing sexual aggression, to Ginger’s insecurities in the face of her sister, and Sarsgaard’s ‘glimpse’ into Jasmine’s mind when they first meet, wherein his little looks and mannerisms indicate that something’s wrong, yet without his being able to say why. This and the film’s script are its strong points, and take center stage. With multiple viewings, however, some sequences are either too overtly symbolic, or unrealistic. Upon meeting Sarsgaard, for instance, she waits for his call while Chili makes a huge scene and wrecks the house. But Jasmine only reacts when her phone rings, thus showing her selfishness, as well as her mental ills. It merely falls flat, in the same way that every single interaction that she has with Ginger’s children devolves to them merely looking on ‘at a crazy woman’, noticing things that the adults don’t notice because, well, children are ‘wise’ like that. It is, again, too obvious symbolism, and over-used symbols, at that, and turns these supporting characters into mere playthings, rather than true human beings.
The film was released to great critical acclaim, earning back about five times its budget, while remaining an intelligent, ‘adult’ drama that -- although far from Allen’s Golden Age work -- is one of the best he’s done in the last decade, and belongs somewhere in Allen’s top half, overall. It is therefore safe to say Woody Allen is one of the great filmmakers in terms of quantity, quality, and longevity, and this film, released when the director was pushing eighty, simply proves this. It is likely that Woody Allen will continue to churn out ‘light’ comedies and other fluff well into old age, but it is also obvious that he’s not out of deeper ideas, either, and is still willing to challenge himself and experiment out of sheer respect not only for his art, but for art as a whole, wherein he still knows how to communicate.