Blue Jasmine (****)
Running Time: 98 minutes
Directed by Woody Allen
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins, Bobby Cannavale, Louis C.K., Peter Sarsgaard and Andrew Dice Clay
(Moviehouse, Dublin Road 25/09/13)
IF there’s one thing Woody Allen can do, well obviously, it’s telling jokes. But if there’s two things Woody Allen can do, it’s tell jokes and write compelling, complicated female characters.
Dianne Wiest (Twice),Mira Sorvino and Penelope Cruz have all won Oscars for performances in Allen films and all through, even these most maligned modern years, A-list actresses have been queuing up to go to the cinema with Alvy Singer and Cate Blanchett has finally got her turn.
Blanchett stars as Jasmine, a New York socialite fallen on hard times, who moves to San Francisco to stay with her sister, Ginger ( A terrific Sally Hawkins), as she tries to get back on her feet. Jasmine struggles to fit in with the earthy, working class lifestyle of her sister, butting heads continually with Ginger’s grease monkey boyfriend, Chilli.
Jasmine’s convoluted plan to rebuild her life is to take a computer course to allow her to study interior design online and she pays for this by working as a receptionist at a dental practice, which she detests.
Blue Jasmine’s narrative strongly echoes Tennessee Williams’ iconic piece of American theatre, A Streetcar Named Desire and, like the play’s infamous central protagonist Blanche Du Bois, Jasmine has her own dark past that she seems unable to shake off.
The film is punctuated with extended flashbacks of Jasmine’s luxurious life with her former husband Hal (Baldwin) and slowly reveals what went wrong in their lives, implicating Hal in a financial scandal which saw Ginger and her then husband, Augie, lose a large sum of money.
The shame of her past means Jasmine struggles to be honest with the people she meets and move on, but she also seems mesmerised by her past. Drawn like a moth to a flame, she rehashes past events. With such well-worn character tropes as talking to herself to show her madness, Jasmine could easily have slipped into parody, but Blanchett creates a fragile, haunted woman who hides under a mask of pride and sophistication.
It’s a complicated, contradictory role that Blanchett absolutely nails. What’s more, the character retains a sense of dignity and humour to the bitter end and the audience can’t help but grow to like Jasmine despite her selfish, aloof nature.
There is a fine line between comedy and tragedy and Blue Jasmine walks it very tightly. Despite the dark elements of the narrative, there is plenty of warmth and humour. Jasmine’s standoffish, fish out of water character creates a wonderful chalk and cheese dynamic with the other characters in Blue Jasmine’s world.
Much of the comedy arises from the various male-female relationships: Ginger and Chilli have a ridiculous and riotous one; while Jasmine is constantly the subject of awkward and unwanted male attentions.
Allen, however, doesn’t stop there Blue Jasmine is a film that subjects the romantic relationships of adults not just to ridicule, but also clinical analysis, with many of the characters being shown as duplicitous, childish and self-involved, bringing to mind Alexander Payne’s About Schmidt with its sense of pathos and honesty.
After 42 feature films and at the age of 77, Woody Allen shows he still has the ability to surprise and Blue Jasmine is a wonderfully fresh and engrossing film with Blanchett the jewel in its crown, while retaining the laughs and deeply flawed characters that have been his signature and the reason why we continue to love Woody.
Review by Richard Davis