For as long as I can remember, people have been complaining at how terrible Woody Allen has become. “His latest film’s female lead is hopeless”, the reviews would say, “nothing compared to Annie Hall”. Or, “The dialogues? Mostly dry – a pale shadow of Mr. Allen’s early Radio Days! Not to mention the dim portrayal of relationships. If Manhattan was a person, it’d be turning in its grave”.
Well, I have had enough. Our generation has only known the 70s and 80s Woody Allen retrospectively: sure, we’ve admired the black and white and the jazz and the Eighties turtleneck sweaters, but we’ve also always known that they were a thing of the past. So now why should we not be allowed to enjoy the Woody Allen of London, Paris and Rome and the opera instead of the jazz, and Scarlett Johansson instead of Mia Farrow?
His latest, Blue Jasmine, has been hailed as the 77-year-old director’s return to form; critics left and right hurried to assure us that the film was actually good because it was reminiscent of the older Husbands and Wives or Crimes and Misdemeanours. That is all very well, but it also implies that the film’s value lies almost entirely in its references to films of decades past. Knowing the Allen of the twenty-first century far better than the Allen of a time when I wasn’t even born, I can’t help but point out that, actually, Blue Jasmine seems to be the product of the last, more recent decade of filmmaking.
Match Point, for instance, was butchered by critics. I adored it, and it stayed with me long after I finished watching it. The slimy selfishness that Woody Allen mixes with wealth was already present in the much-criticised You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger. Echoes of Cate Blanchett’s hysterical, crazed character are already present in the female leads of Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and Sally Hawkins’ character, Ginger, is like the heightened, developed version of Kate, Colin Farrell’s loving fiancée in Cassandra’s Dream. There is no real need to trace back to the 70s the influences that made up Blue Jasmine: they can all be found in the past decade of Allen’s work, a time often overlooked by critics, who often seem reluctant to appreciate any films that fall short of the Diane Keaton/Mia Farrow period.
But maybe it is time to leave the Allen of the past behind, and to become accustomed to the different kind of genius that shines, albeit at different intensities, through all of his productions. He has never tried to recreate the innocent magic of his first works, and for this he has been criticised at length – though never directly. Yet the sooner the older generation of critics bid farewell to “the old Allen” for good, the sooner their own judgement will stop sounding antiquated. There is nothing wrong with nostalgia, but that, too, can become obsolete; Mr. Allen seems to have understood it before anyone else.
Laura G. Gozzi