Film review by Jason Day of the Woody Allen comedy drama about an alcoholic socialite who attempts to reconnect with her estranged sister after her marriage breaks down. Starring Cate Blanchett and Alec Baldwin.
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The formerly wealthy and spoilt New York socialite Jasmine (Blanchett) travels to San Francisco to live with her working class sister Ginger (Hawkins), her two young children and boorish boyfriend Chilli (Cannavale) after her husband (Baldwin) is arrested for embezzlement. She finds it difficult to adjust to life in reduced circumstances, not helped by heavy drinking and a reliance on Xanax, but starts to piece her life together as she imposes on the people around her.
Review, by Jason Day
Allen has had a bumpy last decade, either making the poorly received Melinda and Melinda (2004) to the passable and diverting You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010) or the warm and well-received Midnight in Paris (2011) leading many to think his best years when he was probably the leading world film director were long since behind him.
The dip in quality might well be explained by his ferocious output (almost one film a year and on several occasions two, since 1977) when slowing the pace and cutting out the chaff would have resulted in a cleaner oeuvre of close to classics.
It was with baited breath I approached Blue Jasmine, half expecting an hour and a half to be wasted on either fluffy unfunny comedy or torpid sexual drama, but it is a blessed relief that sees him rocketing back to the firmament of top movie-makers, helped in no small part by his smart writing and superlative acting from this ensemble cast.
And what a performance he coaxes from Blanchett, who has never been better than as his Blanche DuBois of the West Coast, for this is Streetcar Named Desire wrapped up in fake furs.
Caught having a full on argument with herself on the streets and subsequently sent for a dose of ‘Edison’s Medicine’ this is a brave performance from an actress who is more famous for her glamorous roles in Elizabeth (1998) and The Talented Mr Ripley (1999) but proves she is capable of pushing herself much further. Her face is frequently smeared in mascara, hair bedraggled, arm pits wringing with sweat. But where DuBois was dangerously unaware of her fragile mind, Blanchett is fully in touch with Jasmine’s fragrantly delusional mind, peppered with spot-on insights and regretful self-analysis.
It’s interesting to note how her mental state and snobbishness is reflected in the delicious cinematography. Allen complements his film of two halves thus; in the New York scenes when she is rich, content and relatively stable there is a glistening, Ivy League/pastel look. Slammed down to earth in Frisco, the colours are earthy and dulled but warm. When she is romanced by diplomat Sarsgaard, the diamond and champagne sparkle suddenly captures this most European of American cities.
The parallels with Streetcar trickle throughout the film, not least in the razor sharp dialogue between Blanchett and Cannavale’s sub-Stanley Kowalski. Although the film isn’t as funny as one would expect of an Allen film, there is some excellent comedy when Cannavale has his own breakdown in the middle of a grocery shop and an empathetic shopkeeper offers him assistance. Allen’s talent for creating fully rounded characters who interact with each other with such conviction is thoroughly on show in Blue Jasmine – the pleasure from watching the film comes from the feeling that you are ear-wigging on the most smooth-flowing, unpretentious and raucous chatter. A a viewer, he leaves you feeling like the luckiest of eaves droppers.
Although no male character is an exact approximation for the real-life Woody who usually crops up as a character in the films the director does not directly star in, all have a share of mid-life male neurosis. Baldwin, excellent as Jasmine’s perennially unfaithful, is the most recognisable. She even says to him, as he tells her he has fallen in love with a neighbour’s au pair “She’s a teenager!”, perhaps in reference to Allen’s real-life romantic situation with his former step-daughter Soon-Yi.
Allen’s favourite kind of saxophone jazz music toots throughout the film, even the cafe underneath where Ginger lives is called ‘El Jazz Caliente’.
See the official trailer on Youtube.
Cast & credits
Director: Woody Allen. Perdido Productions/Sony/Big Bang et al. (12A)
Producers: Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum, Edward Walson.
Writer: Woody Allen.
Camera: Javier Aguirreasrobe.
Music: Christopher Lennertz.
Sets: Santo Loquasto.
Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins, Booby Cannavale, Andrew Dice Clay, Peter Sarsgaard, Louis C.K, Michael Stuhlbarg.