Woody Allen’s directorial output has been decidedly uneven, particularly within the last decade. While highlights of the decade have included the thrilling Match Point (2005) and the joyous gem Midnight in Paris (2011), Allen has also underwhelmed us with films like You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010) and To Rome with Love (2012). This is understandable given the sheer frequency of his films (1981 was the last year that he didn’t direct a film). But Woody always manages to bounce back, and he has done so in a big way with Blue Jasmine.
Jasmine is down on her luck. Having lived as a socialite in New York while married to her millionaire husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), she is forced to move to San Fransisco after Hal loses all their money. Plagued by panic attacks, flashbacks and episodes of talking to herself, Jasmine attempts to get her life back on track after being taken in by her less-privileged sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins). But Jasmine’s prickly demeanour and selfish nature put her at odds with those around her, particularly Ginger’s blue-collar boyfriend, Chili (Bobby Cannavale).
Woody Allen may have written and directed Blue Jasmine, but the entire film belongs to Cate Blanchett. As Jasmine, Blanchett delivers a performance so raw and staggering in its mastery that it is absolutely impossible to imagine anyone else in the part. Jasmine appears in nearly every scene of the film and, even though you may want to at times, you cannot take your eyes off of Blanchett whenever she is onscreen. Allen’s decision to intersperse Jasmine’s new life with flashbacks to her life with Hal is a clever way to contrast old Jasmine with new Jasmine. This technique highlights the full extent of Jasmine’s transformation from socialite to broken woman, and Blanchett’s skill in portraying both aspects of her character’s personality. Her blistering performance will be remembered as arguably her finest work and is likely to earn her a well-deserved second Oscar. She is phenomenal.
Blanchett is supported by a strong cast, with Hawkins and Cannavale being the standouts. There is a real warmth to their rocky relationship, and they are both extremely effective in portraying the cracks that begin to appear between them as soon as Jasmine arrives. Are Ginger and Chili right for each other? Or is Jasmine right when she says that Ginger can do better? Allen is clever not to present a definitive argument either way, emphasising the fine line between settling and simply being content with what you have. On a less impressive note, Alec Baldwin is merely required to stand around and be Alec Baldwin, and a brief appearance by Louis CK is oddly distracting.
Blue Jasmine would not be considered easy viewing, but it is definitely rewarding. The intensity of Blanchett’s performance and Allen’s refusal to sugar-coat the seriousness of Jasmine’s situation are quite exhausting to behold. The notion of money hangs over the whole film, and Allen makes an interesting comparison between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. If you are expecting Jasmine to see the error of her selfish and materialistic ways and learn to be happy with what she’s got, you may be disappointed. She is somewhat of an anti-heroine; we don’t particularly want Jasmine to succeed, and the real joy comes from watching Blanchett relish the chance to portray her delicious downward spiral. But Allen never lets the film get too dark, and it is actually, in fact, one of the funniest films of the year. A scene where Jasmine rants matter-of-factly about all her problems (including her divorce, her medication and her ex-husband’s illegal dealings) to her two young nephews is particularly hilarious.
Blue Jasmine is a riveting film filled with fascinating characters, anchored by Cate Blanchett’s jaw-droppingly perfect performance. The film may not lift your mood, and it may not inspire you, but it will give you a chance to watch one of the greatest actresses of our time operating at the top of her game. Highly recommended.
Review Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Runtime: 98 Minutes
Blue Jasmine is screening nationally now.