Back in the US after exploring Rome, Barcelona, Paris (and time), Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” is a beautiful, funny and painful return to form following an undercooked “To Rome With Love” aided by a revelatory performance from Cate Blanchett.
Namesake Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) has devoted her life to understanding and conquering the lipstick jungle of New York City after marrying financial “genius” Hal (Alec Baldwin). Proving herself an exceptional one percenter – she makes time for charities you see in between Pilates and lunch – Jasmine is horrified to learn how the other side lives when she relocates to San Francisco, relying on the generosity of her poor and dissimilar sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) following Hal’s exposure as a financial fraud.
Told in flashbacks between the old and new life, Jasmine begins the film with drive, fuelled by vodka and Xanax, to get back to the socialite life she knew and loved while we are shown glimpses of how it slowly unravelled. Needing a resume that has more than ‘throws the best Upper East Side dinner parties’, Jasmine decides that taking a computer class so that she can then take an online interior decorating course is the obvious way to go, before following the much easier route of landing another wealthy bachelor (Peter Sarsgaard). Contemptuous of her surroundings and of the company her sister keeps, namely fiancé Chili (Bobby Cannavale), Jasmine spends the film blindly trying to regain her social status, no matter the collateral damage to her sister or herself.
The film draws many comparisons to “A Streetcar Named Desire”, particularly in the similarities between the lead characters, but Allen does not have quite the sympathy for this New York financial princess as Tennessee did for the tormented Southern Belle. A post GFC (global financial crisis) and Bernie Madoff influenced tale, the film has no time for the idle rich, and it seems Jasmine seeled her fate long before we meet her.
Like so many of Blanchett’s performances, Cate plays Jasmine exposed with no plan to evoke audience sympathy, but so naked (figuratively) is Jasmine by the end that you can’t help but feel for her. From her attempts to learn how to work a computer, to purring in her natural environment of high society functions, to babysitting her bewildered nephews, Jasmine is a fully realised and enticing character that is at times funny, desperate, beautiful, and sad. Blanchett is sure to receive Academy Award recognition for the role and it will be well deserved. Incredible performances from the whole cast particularly Sally Hawkins, Bobby Cannavale and Andrew Dice Clay who plays Augie, Ginger’s ex that Jasmine helped screw over in her time at the top, round out the film.
Woody Allen is incredible in producing a completed film every year, but while some films may have benefitted from more time to harvest screenplays and edit story threads, “Blue Jasmine” is not one of them. The characters, performances, subject matter and script will ensure that this film will certainly be played in a highlight reel of Woody Allen’s prolific career.