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By Anita Felicelli

Blue Jasmine: Woody Allen's San Francisco

Uploaded: Aug 13, 2013

Just a few minutes away from Google headquarters and the Computer History Museum, my husband and I were watching a blank screen at Century 16. We were waiting for Woody Allen?s forty-eighth film Blue Jasmine to start, but in spite of our location, it was delayed by technical difficulties. We?re suckers for Woody Allen?particularly for the atmospheric escapism involved in watching self-absorbed Manhattanites get into trouble while a jazzy soundtrack plays. Also for clever movies like Zelig.

We find more than half of Woody Allen?s movies are subpar, like watching the scene in Being John Malcovich where John Malcovich playing himself can say nothing but ?Malcovich, Malcovich? in various intonations. And yet in spite of duds like Melinda and Melinda we remain excited every year when a new movie comes out.

I?ve often wondered if Allen asks his actors to channel him, or if he?s so distinctive they just can?t help but channel him when given certain lines. A break-up scene in Blue Jasmine is particularly funny in this regard?both Blanchett and her significant other do Woody Allen impressions. It?s Woody Allen breaking up with himself.

Blue Jasmine is extremely entertaining, a joky Streetcar Named Desire set in New York and San Francisco. The story revolves around the crack-up of an extremely wealthy New Yorker, Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), after her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) commits suicide in prison.

Jasmine comes to San Francisco to stay with her adoptive sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), a working class woman forever going out with modern-day incarnations of Streetcar?s Stanley Kowalski. Jasmine claims to be broke, but flies first class and arrives carrying Louis Vuitton bags. Ginger?s boyfriend Augie sees Jasmine for what she is: a heartless phony. A series of flashbacks explain how Jasmine lost her money.

Left in another actress?s hands, Jasmine would be another of Woody Allen?s many wooden female characters as seen through the eyes of some neurotic male. But Cate Blanchett?s genius is to leave us constantly guessing and engaged in her internal struggle. She plays Jasmine as a particularly complex Blanche du Bois, fighting off the advances of her boss one moment, washing down Xanax with vodka the next.

The movie is set in San Francisco?I was expecting some of the magic of Midnight in Paris applied to yet another of the world?s most remarkable cities. Instead Woody Allen chose to manufacture his own alternate San Francisco, made recognizable only by a standard shot of the Golden Gate Bridge, a Chinatown intersection, and a scene at a cold beach.

A San Francisco in which schlubby guys played by Louis C.K. and Andrew Dice Clay wear ill-fitting, mismatched outfits and talk like they?re construction workers from New York City. It?s as if Allen has never really visited San Francisco, nor even watched another movie set there.

In spite of these directorial choices, Blue Jasmine is well worth watching if only to see Blanchett?s Jasmine, one of the most remarkable performances on screen in recent history.

Have you seen Blue Jasmine yet? Is this a San Francisco you recognize?