Blue Jasmine Could Have Been Filmed in Front of a Blue Screen of San Francisco
Like you've been saying you're going to get around to this weekend, I saw Blue Jasmine. And I loved it. But, for all the locally generated hype, Blue Jasmine doesn't just utterly fail as a San Francisco movie, it fails to even attempt to be a San Francisco movie.
Woody Allen could have filmed in front of a blue screen of the Golden Gate Bridge, SoMa, the Marina, Ocean Beach, or the other locales that popped up. Or he could have set this film in any city where people who've made terrible decisions flee to escape themselves and realize too late that this is impossible.
Your humble narrator watched Midnight in Paris at midnight in Rennes -- which is still a shlep from Paris, but a good deal closer than the Metreon. And while I liked that film, too, erstwhile SF Weekly managing editor Alan Scherstuhl was on to something when he said it was a movie "about a man who somehow finds himself in a Wikipedia entry about [Paris in] the 1920s." The French people I was with enjoyed the film -- it's in the French constitution that the citizenry of La Republique must enjoy any Woody Allen film -- but they felt it was full of trite, romantic notions of Paris typical of a tourist. Well, c'est la vie.
With Blue Jasmine, however, Allen didn't even attempt to make trite observations about San Francisco. Instead, he populated the film with New York-types, looking like New York-types, acting like New York-types, sounding like New York-types, and talking about New York-type things.
A pair of working-class white ethnics garrulously debating where to get the best clams in town, in clam chowder-thick East Coast accents, is not a particularly San Francisco thing. It wouldn't have detracted anything from the film if these characters didn't talk like they just walked out of a casting call for a Mean Streets revival and argued about getting the sort of food San Franciscans like to argue about getting -- maybe even at a food truck or bacon-wrapped hot-dog vendor.
You know where you can get good clams in San Francisco? Everywhere.
In Allen's classic film Sleeper, a scientist in the far future explains the cause of America's nuclear holocaust: An atomic bomb fell into the hands of a man named Albert Shanker.
You're not laughing. But in New York City -- and for transplanted New Yorkers worldwide -- this was a fall-out-of-the chair moment. Shanker was a honcho in New York City teachers' unions. This was a joke for the home crowd. This is the attention to detail Allen has when it comes to his place of birth and catering to fellow New Yorkers. That was lacking with regard to San Francisco. I mean, look at what Bobby Cannavale was wearing.
Cannavale is a spectacular actor who, like every cast member, delivered an excellent performance. And yet, as the male lead, he traipses around San Francisco outfitted in sleeveless and/or tight shirts, tight shorts, and with a cutesy haircut featuring a forelock. Cannavale is from Jersey, and he sounds it. But that's okay; folks from Jersey move to San Francisco every day. Back in Jersey, where it gets hot, blue-collar working stiffs may dress this way. Wearing the identical outfit in San Francisco, however, is more indicative of a gay man -- perhaps a gay blue-collar working stiff, but that's not what Allen was after.
And yet, Allen appears to have hit our city right between the eyes -- honestly and fairly, but not flatteringly -- with the very last scene in the film. I'm going to give away more than you ought to know if you haven't seen the movie, so be forewarned.
After hitting rock bottom, Jasmine wanders, disheveled, into the streets. She ends up in South Park, and begins talking to herself on a park bench. Her path was atypical, but her destination wasn't: Yet another poor, lost soul who comes to rest in our city, as far west as you can go without getting wet.
I could have sworn Allen's final shot would pull back to reveal many, many lost souls talking to themselves, on many, many park benches. But he didn't do that. And I can't fault him; he's one of the great filmmakers and he's made a great film.
But that -- that would have been San Francisco all right.