Blanchett provides so much to chew on and gawk at that she single-handedly makes the film a certifiably significant work.
It’s always felt like everyone’s been waiting for Woody Allen‘s legendary, ultra-prolific career to inevitably begin sputtering out. When he began really losing steam about a decade ago with duds like Curse of the Jade Scorpion and Melinda and Melinda, many speculated that his edge might be dulling for good. Then he knocked us in the head with the brilliant films like Match Point, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and Midnight in Paris which proved he was still capable of creating significant cinema.
From another angle, the infrequency of great films in Allen’s late period has been a signal to many that his days as a vital director may be over sooner rather than later. Is Blue Jasmine—a bitter character study starring Cate Blanchett as Jasmine, a Ruth Madoff-like wreck of a woman—substantial enough to quell the fears of his loyal supporters and prove he’s got more left in the tank? The short answer is yes, it is. Blanchett’s unbounded performance should easily earn her an Oscar nod and directorially, Allen is in tip-top shape. And yet, Blue Jasmine falls short of greatness, mostly due to strangely written and casted supporting players and a script that slightly buckles under the weight of Blanchett’s juggernaut performance.
The film opens with Jasmine, a once wealthy New York aristocrat, sitting on a plane, rattling off incessantly about how she met her husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin) to a stranger who becomes less interested with every word. “He met me at a party and swept me off my feet.” They’ve just landed in San Francisco (which Allen photographs as if it were a ghost town), where Jasmine’s forced to stay with her working class sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), since she’s lost “every cent” of her own money—Hal’s orchestration of a failed Ponzi scheme landed him in the slammer, leaving Jasmine drowned in debt. She tries to veil her snobby disgust for her sister’s modest digs, and numbs herself to her surroundings by chugging vodka.
Watching Jasmine plummet from the glamour, Chanel bags, and Hamptons house parties of her previous life (depicted artfully in carefully planted flashbacks) to downing bottles of Stoli, snacking on Xanax, and sleeping on a crummy couch bed, is deliciously tragic and straddles the line between hilarious and depressing. Jasmine is unbelievably self-centered, perpetually complaining about everything, but mostly about the titanic tragedy that is her life, even when no one’s around to hear it (disturbing.) Whenever she’s confronted with a serious dilemma, she mentally checks out and starts reciting her go-to anecdotes from the “Hal” days like a broken record. She repeats the story with a blank stare, “He met me at a party and swept me off my feet.” Shudder. Extreme neurosis and anxiety are eating her alive (Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence comes to mind.) Jasmine’s mental breakdown is both utterly gripping and distressing to watch, like a 20 million dollar jet crashing and burning in slow motion.
The supporting cast is almost comically un-Californian, with Andrew Dice Clay as Hawkins’ bitter ex husband (“She’s movin’ in wit’ yoo?”), Louis C.K. as her frivolous fling (wasted), and Bobby Cannavale playing a lame version of Stanley Kowalski. Speaking of A Streetcar Named Desire (which inspired Allen to make this film), Blanchett channels the tragic romanticism of Blanche DuBois, who she played on-stage in 2009. She never gets too showy, though, and only goes big-time operatic when she knows the scene will be better for it.
Though Allen opted to not endow Blue Jasmine with his travelogue visual flare that I’ve grown fond of, Blanchett provides so much to chew on and gawk at that she single-handedly makes the film a certifiably significant work. The humor never falters and there’s enough of it to balance out Jasmine’s surprisingly dark character arc, but I’d hesitate to classify this as a comedy (as it’s been advertised.) I would, however, classify it as proof that Allen’s still got years of great films left in him.