Director: Woody Allen.
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin, Bobby Cannavale, Louis C.K., Andrew Dice Clay, Peter Sarsgaard.
Running Time: 98 minutes.
Synopsis: Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) moves from New York to San Francisco to escape her late husband’s criminal past and desperately attempt to start a new life.
Nestled amongst a seemingly unending European sojourn (his previous took place in Rome, his next 1930s France), BLUE JASMINE is Woody Allen’s first 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 it’s 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 twisted Bernie Madoff-esque businessman-cum-exploiter, Hal, (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, Jasmine (refashioned from Jeanette, which “had no panache”) turns to Ginger (Sally Hawkins), her parents’ other adopted daughter, 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 once 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 learns that a life of haughty entitlement overshadowed by a murky history ensures that her bid for a second bout of upward mobility is as bottomless as the bottle of vodka constantly by her side.
Sustained flashbacks showcase 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, it’s used as a method to show how the reverberations from one have a lasting, damning effect on the other. It also establishes the dichotomous lives and relationship between Jasmine and Ginger, which is expertly investigated (and written) in the current tense as they share vastly dissimilar outlooks on, and expectations from, life.
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 vice-like grip on the material remnants of a bourgeois regime and a tendency to speak to herself (a narrative device Blanchett is fully capable of appearing 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 contemporary 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.