There’s nothing finer than a fine Woody Allen film and Blue Jasmine finds the bespectacled one in his richest form for many years.
Allen’s mercurial career has seen more than its fair share of peaks and troughs over the past 50-odd years. When he’s good, he can be great as he was throughout the 70s and much of the 80s, but when’s he’s bad he can be terrible (2001’s The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion being one inglorious example).
After decades of largely New York-based movies, Allen embarked on a European tour which, like much of his filmography, was a decidedly hit and miss affair. Blue Jasmine is his first US-set production since 2009’s forgettable Whatever Works and the return to home soil (all be it in San Francisco instead of the Big Apple) has served him well.
Left penniless following her high-flying husband Hal’s (Alec Baldwin) arrest for fraud, former one-percenter Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) arrives on her adopted sister Ginger’s (Sally Hawkins) doorstep fallen from grace and with nowhere else to go.
Although welcoming, there is an underlying tension between them which is exacerbated by Ginger’s new boyfriend, red-blooded greasemonkey Chili (Bobby Cannavale). Now forced to join the other 99 per cent, the stiff-necked Jasmine still maintains an aloofness fuelled by Martini and Xanex. She attempts to rebuild her life and spies in wealthy widower Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard) an opportunity to rejoin the social elite; however, her past can’t stay locked up forever.
The problem with so many of Allen’s films over the past two decades has been that they end up becoming weighed down by the baggage of being ‘a Woody Allen film’; whether it be the clunky narrative (the overrated Match Point, Scoop, Anything Else), recycled dialogue or faux-Allen twitchiness of some of his actors (Larry David in Whatever Works or, worst of all, Kenneth Branagh in 1998’s Celebrity).
Blue Jasmine succeeds because it features believable characters instead of Allen caricatures and has one of his very best scripts. The film’s structure, which flits between the present and flashbacks to New York that reveal how Jasmine ended up in the here and now, is particularly effective.
The film is also incredibly well served by the excellent cast, led by Blanchett’s tour de force performance. It’s hard to believe it’s taken quite so long for her and Allen to work together, but it was most definitely worth the wait.
Jasmine is one of Allen’s most memorable creations and Blanchett fully inhabits the character in a warts-and-all turn that’s equal parts pathetic and self-destructive. Like a bull in a china shop, Jasmine is a ticking time bomb of delusional self-entitlement, self-loathing and toxic depression. When she’s not babbling to herself and railing at the injustice she perceives she’s suffered, she’s trying her best to persuade Ginger to ditch Chili in favour of someone more refined.
Hawkins holds her own against Blanchett and turns in a perceptive and subtle performance. Ginger isn’t just a working class girl with a heart of gold; she makes mistakes and has a difficult past to contend with, as shown through her failed marriage to Augie (an unusually restrained Andrew Dice Clay).
Bobby Cannavale is a lot of fun as Chili, although the comparisons to A Streetcar Named Desire‘s Stanley Kowalski are a little off; for one thing Chili’s tear ducts get more of a workout than Brando’s ever did. That being said, Blue Jasmine‘s similarity to Streetcar… is difficult to ignore.
One area where the film falls down is in the soundtrack. As usual, Allen goes for a jazz score, but when a jaunty number suddenly plays over a dramatic scene, as is the case towards the end of the film, it has a habit of taking you out of the moment and undermining the fine work being done by Blanchett and company.
Allen may never again reach the dizzy heights of Manhattan or Annie Hall, but Blue Jasmine is a compelling character study and proves there’s plenty of life in the old dog yet.
I missed this one in theaters and can’t wait to check out, good work.
Thanks man. You’ll have a good time with it I’m quite sure.
Fine write-up to a Woody Allen I’m intrigued on seeing (not always the case). Thanks.
Cheers buddy. I love Allen, but he’s done some utter crap. This I’m pleased to say isn’t one of those.
Great review Mark. Heard some excellent things about this. Might try and catch it before it leaves cinemas but if not it’ll definitely be a rental for me.
Cheers my friend. If you like Allen you’ll get a lot out of this; well worth catching.
Good review. I did not like this one as much as you do, but I agree that the actors and characters are very, very good.
Glad you enjoyed it. Maybe it’s because I’ve sat through so many naff Allen movies that I latched onto this.
Hi Mark – great review and you are spot on about Bobby Cannavale character – it was tempting to make a straight-forward comparison to Street Car … but it is more broadly drawn than Williams. Blanchett’s character is consuming, I felt a bit tired by the end of it! I’ve been watching all of Woody’s films this year (a WOODYTHON) and I think that this is one of his mid-ranking efforts. There is certainly more life in the old dog, but there is something very old fashioned about it. It seems to be commenting about something relevant about the age (the impact of the financial crisis on the elite) but it seems strangely ‘out of time’ (are there still night-school classes about ‘computers’ to help smart phone users understand the internet?). Nevertheless, its an interesting and entertaining film.
Thanks very much. I enjoyed it as much as I did probably because so much of his recent material has been average at best. I doubt Allen’s ever going to direct anything but old fashioned films anymore; although I enjoyed the fact this looked at the impact of the financial crisis through the eyes of a spouse. He’s an out of time filmmaker, bless him.
Good review Mark. The cast is what really made this flick work and tick as much as it did. Not to say that Woody’s script didn’t help either, but this is more of an example of him taking a back-seat and just letting the fine ensemble tell his story, which is not a problem one bit.
Nice review. I’m a fan of Woody but like you have found his recent movies lacking of his wit from his older work. I still need to check this out though so nice to see you really liked it.
Thanks very much. I was very pleasantly surprised by it as I wasn’t expecting an awful lot judging by his recent work.
Excellent write-up Mark. This sounds absolutely brilliant. As a big Allen fan, this is right up my street.
Appreciate that Mark. If you’re an Allen fan I think you’ll get a kick out of this.
It definitely is a compelling character study, you’re spot on there. Woody Allen beautifully captures Jasmine’s breakdown and the full force of her actions. The structure and pacing are superb featuring an excellent cast. However, this is really Blanchett’s movie capturing the vile and arguably sympathetic, Jasmine perfectly showing what a phenomenal actress she is.
Thanks a lot my friend. Blanchett is on Oscar-winning form here no mistake. Jasmine’s one of the very best characters in any Allen film and Blanchett nails it.
I have to see this movie. I missed it in theaters.
Mark this is an excellent review, and it makes me regret writing almost everything I did in my own of this! haha. Although at the time I suppose I could not get over the general unlikability of Jasmine or much of the cast, to be honest. I couldn’t see past that and I was kind of put-off by this new film. I have to admit now, though, that this is a profoundly convincing performance from Blanchett.
Thank you Tom, means a lot. The fact she got under your skin so much suggests just how effective Blanchett is in the role. The film has its faults no doubt, but it’s effortlessly good filmmaking by Allen.