Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin, Bobby Cannavale, Peter Sarsgaard, Andrew Dice Clay, Louie CK
Written by: Woody Allen
Running Time: 98 mins
Release date: 27th September 2013
Some films demand your attention because of their epic scale. Others because of the subject matter. Some because of their entertainment value. Blue Jasmine is a film that demands your attention because of one singular performance. Not saying that the rest of the film is bad. On the contrary, Woody Allen’s latest is an absolute masterpiece but with Cate Blanchett in the lead, the film is propelled into another league entirely.
Jasmine is a troubled woman. Forced to leave New York because of her crooked husband’s business dealings going rotten and him ending up in jail, Jasmine comes to San Francisco to live with her poorer half-sister, Ginger. The two women are very different: Ginger is down-to-earth, living in a cramped apartment with her two sons and who is on the verge of having her new love, Chilli, moving in. Jasmine, on the other hand, is a broken socialite recovering from a breakdown with a severe drinking problem, who has delusions of grandeur as far as the men she is with and the life that she leads. As Jasmine tries to cope with a world she doesn’t fully understand, she finds hope with a diplomat but those hope can soon be crushed.
Blue Jasmine marks a huge change of direction for Allen. His most recent films, Midnight In Paris and From Rome With Love have been fluffy, romantic comedies that bring hope in an almost dreamlike quality. Jasmine is a far bleaker and darker film. This is no fairy tale, like Midnight was, this is a bump into reality for a character who doesn’t seem to be able to cope with real life very well. Not saying that the film isn’t funny. Allen’s ability to find comedy even in the darkest hours is still ever present and there are some deliciously funny moments. Not as many as in previous films but it’s there and, trust me, it needs to be there because if not, the suffering and pain that Jasmine feels would be too much for us to take.
Allen’s skill as a film maker is clearly on view, as the narrative jumps from flashbacks of Jasmine’s former life to her world now, telling the tale from her point-of-view, however rose-tinted it may be. It’s a ploy that works extremely well in making us understand where Jasmine has come from and where she is going to end. It also uses a particularly interesting premise at the start and the end, in which we see Jasmine on a plane talking to a lady that is a complete juxtaposition to the finale, again only a master at his best can pull off such a device.
Jasmine is proof once and for all that Allen can write brilliant female characters. Both her and Ginger are the core of this film and they are creations that most actresses would die to play. The men play an important part but these two very different people hold the glue together. The film may be criticised for its depiction of the lower classes and yes, Allen sometimes turns to stereotypes for this but here he manages to keep on the correct side of the line with a host of superb and surprisingly good performances.
Actors have been known to kill for a part in an Allen film because he writes so well and directs so well. His decisions can sometimes be controversial, like, for example, the casting of Andrew Dice Clay and Ginger’s former husband, Augie. Clay is a comedian who repulsed America with his openly racist, homophobic and misogynistic routines. Here, in a minor role, he is excellent and perfect casting as the downtrodden man with no class who had dreams that were destroyed by Jasmine’s crooked husband. A controversial choice, maybe, but one that works well. Bobby Cannavale is delightfully unsubtle as Chilli, while it’s nice to see Peter Sarsgaard in a less slimey role then we usually see him in as Jasmine’s new love.
Alec Baldwin, whose career recently seems to be going from strength to strength, is perfect as the quietly scheming businessman Hal, who is full of trustworthiness and obvious love for his wife and yet manages to hold onto the dark secrets of his crooked world and infidelities, which Jasmine refuses to believe are happening.
Then there are the ladies. Sally Hawkins is superb as Ginger, a woman who doesn’t seem to have a care in the world, who makes the wrong choices in her life but always seems to forgive and forget. It’s a nicely played performance that doesn’t have to be showy and over-the-top. It sits nicely in this world and it’s hard to believe that Hawkins doesn’t live in that place but is a Brit through and through. This will hopefully propel her to bigger and better things in the future, she deserves it.
The film, no matter how you look at it, belongs to Cate Blanchett. I have seen some great performances in my time but this one takes the biscuit. She doesn’t just command the picture, she owns it. A woman who is both sympathetic and pathetic at the same time, Blanchett shows us every inch of pain she is suffering. A confused woman clinging onto hopes and dreams that she may have had, Blanchett is more than giving a performance: she is Jasmine, right down to her sweatiness. If I was a betting man, I’d put money on it now that she will walk away with the Oscar next year because I cannot see anyone topping his performance.
Blue Jasmine is that rare thing in modern cinema: a film that is adult, intelligent, funny and emotionally draining. The ending is Allen’s bleakest to date and it works a treat. It is his finest hour and just goes to show that no matter how long you have been working in the business, you still have one great novel left and this is Allen’s great novel. It also confirms Blanchett as one of the screen’s finest actresses and I, for one, cannot recommend it highly enough.