Director: Woody Allen
Gravier Productions/Sony Pictures Classics
Woody Allen is on a roll again it would seem – first with Match Point (that brought in a few people new to Woody’s world/prepared to forgive him for any of the “silly” comedies) and then with Midnight In Paris (that brought in everyone, apparently) – there are so many revelations about Blue Jasmine.
First – imagine this – Blue Jasmine is Allen’s 44th film in 47 years. That’s an extraordinary effort. And even if you haven’t seen half of those films, or wish you hadn’t there’s still an embarrassment of riches in the canon; it’s still a mighty work ethic.
And in this – a people-are-shit re-telling of A Streetcar Named Desire mixed with spinoffs from the Bernie Madoff era – Allen brilliantly reintroduces so many of the themes that fascinate him; how it’s all just luck, whatever we do, however we end up – it’s toss of the coin stuff, you give your money to the wrong person, you meet the right person for the wrong reasons or you receive – for good or bad – some dumb luck once, maybe twice in your life. Add to that his preoccupation with showing us that any character you may want to sympathise with is flawed.
Allen does deeply flawed characters well. What he’s not always praised for is the depth he can get to with the writing in and of these characters. The casting of his movies does so much to help with getting that back-story out but that goes to show that Allen knows his characters, his lead ones anyway; he’s allowed to paint some bit-part players in broader strokes. That actors line up to work with him has always been the best advertisement for the strength of his brand. That he and his long-serving casting agent Juliet Taylor have got it right more often than they’ve got it wrong shows they know and believe in the characters. Allen’s writing is never better than with Blue Jasmine.
And the real revelation of Blue Jasmine is Cate Blanchett in a career-high as the vodka-swilling, Xanax-guzzling social climber turned start-again worker. She’s horrible – even when, once or twice, you might want to feel sorry for her or try to imagine the madness of her life, Blanchett’s inward mutterings, nervous tics and head-turning smugness are reminders that she’s awful. She’s introduced as hard work, she continues to be hard work but she’s amazing to watch – a virtuoso performance. You get the feeling he wrote the role for her. You get the feeling he knew she’d shine.
It helps of course that in her acting toolbox she brings not only the skills obtained from a strong career on screen to date but also a time spent strutting and fretting across the stage as Streetcar’s Blanche DuBois; that helps inform her role here and gives further credence to Allen’s considered homage. You get the feeling he knew she’d shine. You get the feeling he wrote the role for her.
But Blanchett doesn’t chew the screen-time or scenery alone. Alec Baldwin (also with a Streetcar background) is of course perfect as Jasmine’s money-making husband. His scenes exist in flashback only, Jasmine’s trying to find her feet – even though it’s her head and heart and soul that are missing. And her provide-everything husband Hal turned out to be a pyramid scheme shyster who screwed around too. (Baldwin does smirking slime-ball in his sleep of course).
Sally Hawkins is Ginger, Jasmine’s sister – they’re adopted. She’s a grocery clerk in San Francisco and Jasmine dosses down with her, taking a job as a dentist’s receptionist, studying a computer course at night so she can “get online” to seek a quickie qualification to be an interior designer.
If you want to laugh at Allen there it’s not him that’s out of touch – it’s his character. And he’s showing us that through Jasmine making everything seem so hard for herself and making herself seem so hard done by when she was happy to coast and glide – and ignore family – when living the high life before her world had a crash.
Hawkins – always great – plays Ginger with a bounce; she plays Ginger with all of the back-story of hardships, of struggling to get by, so clear, so obvious.
Ginger’s taste in men is appalling as far as Jasmine can see. Her first husband, Augie, was a loser. Andrew Dice Clay though is another of the film’s winners – even if his time on screen is short. Again, a shot of great casting.
Blanchett is the star of this show though – and as she becomes more unlikeable the performance takes on more meaning, shows more depth, the story is sadder too, grows sadder as the action evolves. Throw in more themes, the power of resentment when stored as baggage, that old theatre staple of revenge being a dish best served cold, sibling support in the wake of it all
I’ve sat through everything he’s had to offer and enjoyed – in some way or other – almost all of the films. But this is an amazing movie. A very powerful – timely – piece of writing held together by powerhouse performances. There’s a lot to unpack from this film. Not least of all the little clues Woody drops along the way that everyone is a bit of a jerk. Watch back for the dentist who flirts with his receptionist – offering nitrous as a come-on in an awkward scene of dark, dark comedy. Yes, Woody wants us to see his wedding ring. Just as much as he wanted to tease out good luck stories for Ginger and Jasmine both, before they return to how they were when we first met them.
Blue Jasmine will go down as one of Woody Allen’s great triumphs. It should also be remembered as one of the best films of this year.