Few directors are as prolific as Woody Allen. He has basically made a film a year since the mid-’60s, admittedly not all of which have been great but it shows a commitment and passion for filmmaking that’s to be commended. His latest film, Blue Jasmine, is that every-so-often slice of brilliance from the man that sits alongside 2011’s Midnight In Paris as one of his best films in decades.
The story centres on the titular Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), a formerly wealthy New York socialite who is forced to live with her less well-off sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) after her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) is arrested because of some dubious business investments. Accustomed to being draped in fur coats and diamond necklaces, Jasmine’s fall from riches hits her hard as she becomes a slave to prescription pills and alcohol while trying to fit in with her sister’s more humble lifestyle.
At the centre of Blue Jasmine is a staggering performance from Blanchett that you can’t take your eyes off throughout, utterly convincing in the role of a woman deeply troubled and dependent on material possessions, substances and, yes, other people even as she struggles to connect with family she previously shrugged off in favour of living a lavish lifestyle with her husband. It’s a potentially caricaturish role and in the hands of a lesser actress the constant babbling about her once-great life might have become irritating but Blanchett carries it off with aplomb, judging the performance perfectly to make for a believable portrayal of a deeply complex and tragic woman. I’d be very surprised if she didn’t win the Best Actress Oscar when the time comes next year.
While it’s very much Blanchett’s show, there’s fantastic support from the likes of Sally Hawkins as her put upon sister who is trying her best to help but getting nowhere because of Jasmine’s passive aggressive behaviour, Bobby Cannavale as Ginger’s arrogant but loveable new boyfriend and Alec Baldwin as Jasmine’s lying husband, to name but a few. Each of the characters float around, in and out of Jasmine’s story with interesting and funny romantic subplots that never feel superfluous or distracting thanks to a perfect cast and Allen’s acerbic and truthful dialogue.
The film also works as a strange and subtle romantic (or sometimes anti-romantic) mystery as it flip-flops between present day San Francisco and past New York, slowly revealing bit by bit what happened to Jasmine, how exactly she ended up living with her sister and why she is the way she is. Having been away from his beloved New York City for most of the last few years making the likes of Midnight In Paris, To Rome With Love and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, it’s almost seems as if Allen is being called back to his home city and setting of his initial cinematic success, while narratively it gives the film a certain unpredictable and intriguing quality as blanks are filled in with each new flashback.
Blue Jasmine will be held as one of the high watermarks of Allen’s recent career and rightfully so. It’s an extremely well crafted and acted piece of cinema, one that can make you laugh as much as make your heart break. In keeping with most of the director’s work, the runtime and pace are breezily swift but Allen packs every minute of it with quirky character moments that linger long in the mind and astute observations that actually have something real to say about love, estranged familial relationships and finding happiness in life.
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Blue Jasmine is released in UK cinemas on September 27th.