A stunning, career-best turn from Cate Blanchett forms the centre of Woody Allen’s superb new film Blue Jasmine – a bittersweet, melancholy work that rates as his best since Everyone says I love you. Although it clearly belongs to Allen’s “serious” filmography (Crimes and Misdemeanours, Husbands and Wives and so on), there is nevertheless a deliciously dark, satirical sense of humour running throughout much of the film, even though the comedy is greatly outweighed by the tragedy.
Blanchett has long been one of my favourite actresses, but here she is truly extraordinary as Jasmine, a New York socialite fallen on hard times who arrives in San Francisco to seek solace with her adopted sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Flashbacks reveal how her dashingly rich husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) was indicted for financial fraud, which led to her present predicament. But gradually both flashbacks and the on-going plot reveal Jasmine as a condescending, selfish, self-deluded, pill-popping near alcoholic struggling to remain the right side of multiple nervous breakdowns.
Aside from the brilliant Blanchett the rest of the cast are also excellent, with Baldwin in particular deserving a special mention as Jasmine’s duplicitous husband. Allen is obviously comfortable back on home turf, and the well-chosen New York and San Francisco locations greatly benefit the film.
There are echoes of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar named Desire in the way the snobby, delusional Jasmine causes trouble for the downtrodden Ginger, particularly in her outspoken criticism of Ginger’s unrefined but essentially decent steady boyfriend Chilli (Bobby Cannavale). But in spite of this, Blue Jasmine is a unique piece that stands very well on its own terms, even within the Woody Allen back catalogue. It provides a fascinating insight into a character who (the viewer senses from the outset) is too far in denial to change for the better, in spite of all her talk of “moving on”. This is made particularly clear when Jasmine meets aspiring congressman Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard), and lies to him at every turn in an attempt to secure another rich husband.
This is a story with the timely wisdom to demonstrate the old adage that money cannot buy true happiness, especially when comparing Jasmine’s relationships with those of her sister. Whilst there are undoubtedly moments audiences will feel sympathy or even pity for Jasmine, she is very much trapped by her own refusal to face facts. This is made clear in the well deployed flashbacks depicting her deliberately turning a blind eye to her husband’s illegal business activities and serial infidelity. Speaking of infidelity, it is refreshing to see Allen tackle the subject in such a mature, sober fashion, clearly laying out the potentially devastating consequences.
In short, Blue Jasmine is a triumph for Woody Allen and in particular Cate Blanchett, whose amazing performance here will, I predict, win her an Oscar next year.