(dir. Woody Allen, 2013)
(Originally posted at The Hollywood News)
Nestled amongst a seemingly unending European sojourn (his previous took place in Rome, his next 1930s France), Blue Jasmine is Woody Allen’s return to the states since 2009’s shabby Whatever Works and provides the foundation for his most biting, raw and germane film in quite some time. However patchy his 21st century offerings have been, Allen’s tenacious film-a-year approach has paid dividends in numerously rewarding and productive ways, though its arguable that none have been as achingly, bitterly human, or indeed contemporary, as this. What starts as a typically breezy jaunt through feminine angst – accompanied by the usual stereotypically mapped place-setting and neuroses inflected humour, descends into tragedy as quickly as the film’s protagonist waxes boastingly lyrical about her once dexterous life to anyone unfortunate enough to gain her attention.
Blue Jasmine opens with Jasmine (Cate Blanchett, on toxically rousing form), a financially destitute ex-socialite, aboard a flight from New York to San Francisco to seek refuge from the ruinations of her past life. She’s the forty-something widow of a Bernie Madoff-esque businessman-cum-exploiter (Alec Baldwin) who, unbeknownst to his blissfully unaware spouse, fuelled their luxuriously moneyed lifestyle through shady deals and stolen equity. In the wake of her climactic fall from grace – and her husband’s jail-set suicide, Jasmine (refashioned from Jeanette, which “had no panache”) turns to adopted sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) for both a reprieve from the past and an incentive for a new, frantically cobbled together future.
In a steadfast bid for substantiality, Jasmine attempts to rise above what she sees as the menial ineptitude of Ginger’s blue collar existence by deciding to embark on either a career in interior design or resume her education in anthropology, a scholarly background she quickly dropped for a man who promised her bountiful wealth and status amongst New York’s upper crust. Looking to maintain that her stay in San Francisco – already a step-down from her dwellings in Brooklyn – will be as temporary as possible, Jasmine assumes a position of weary advice-giver to Ginger by schooling her in the dos and dont’s of her relationship with greaseball Chili (Bobby Cannavale) whilst simultaneously becoming the object of affection for a lecherous dentist (Michael Stuhlbarg) and a budding congressman, played by Peter Sarsgaard. She also learns that a life of haughty entitlement overshadowed by a murky history ensures that her desire for a second bout of upward mobility is as bottomless as the glass of vodka constantly by her side.
Through sustained flashbacks we see the lofty highs and eventual lows of Jasmine’s marriage to Hal, where cracks were blanketed by her blissfully unaware, somewhat conscious ignorance and a complicity she surmises as herself being a witless bystander in a world she was ill-equipped to navigate, only enjoy. Although the segueing between present and past becomes slightly jarring on an assemblage front, its use as a method to show how the reverberations from one have a lasting, damning effect on the other allows the layers of Jasmine’s cracked and sadly conflicted personality to gestate. It also establishes the dichotomous relationship between Jasmine and Ginger, which is expertly investigated (and written) in the current tense as the characters continue to share vastly dissimilar outlooks on, and expectations from, life and the men who weave in and out.
In a powerhouse, awards-worthy performance, Blanchett excels as the delusional and mentally unstable pill popper, who arrives in San Francisco a washed-up relic of a pre-recession America with a vicelike grip on the material remnants of a bourgeois regime and a tendency to speak to herself (a narrative device Blanchett is fully capable of making appear organic). Once again charting the boundaries between comedy and tragedy, this is the most consistently together Allen has been for a while; his script is dense and ponderous as it tackles relatable and modern issues, something quite alien to his cinema of late. Through the prism of a Tennessee Williams-style outline, Blue Jasmine is another notch on a long list of strong female-led films for the seasoned filmmaker, one that – instead of merely adopting caricatures – retools them to mount a portrait of self-indulgence, privilege and deceit gone crushingly sour. It’s a weighty and progressively devastating drama with a chilly conclusion; an ending where the lyrics of the film’s title track, Blue Moon, ring wholly, hauntingly true for all involved.