Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, a reincarnation of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, features a breathtakingly layered performance from the great Cate Blanchett. Playing Jasmine, a hob-knobbing socialite in the New York City-Hamptons crowd, the actress is able to believably show the character’s acceptance of palatial enjoyments and mighty fall from grace after her husband (Alec Baldwin) is busted for white-collar crime. With her family broken apart, the now-broke Jasmine needs to head West to the small apartment of her half-sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Even though they have hardly conversed in life and come from different sides of the economic spectrum, they need to put up with each other until Jasmine can find her footing again.
As we watch this marvelously drawn character descend to new depths, there’s always a sense of hurt. By humanizing Jasmine, we identify with her and feel bad for her predicaments. This clever technique by Allen is inspired; in 2013, the characters who are disgraced on the front pages of newspapers often seem undeserving of repentance. Jasmine, who told the authorities she had no idea about her husband’s shenanigans, seems worthy of a second chance. She’s out of touch with reality and still embarrassingly holding on to what she considers dignity, yet there’s also a broken shell that needs repairing. Can we honestly stomp on someone who has fallen so low?
Blanchett embodies Jasmine as a network of oxymoronic qualities: She’s elegant, regal and yet liable to start crying at any moment. Often, she stares into the distance, thinking of her son, her husband, their life together. The struggles that she now faces are not too uncommon for the vast majority of people in the United States, but she’s learning these lessons later in life, after having a taste of the refined. This means finding a job with her limited skill set is difficult, and earning respect is a difficult goal. The only way she is able to survive is by stooping to lows she never thought imaginable (note: these lows are quite easy for the common person, but not the wife of a multi-millionaire).
Hawkins and the cast of supporting characters, including Baldwin, Bobby Cannavale, Andrew Dice Clay and Peter Sarsgaard, seem to enjoy their time among Allen’s ensemble players. Hawkins, in particular, plays the Ginger role as the complete opposite of Jasmine. One is pearls and designer dresses, while the other is bootstraps and football games. They are only sisters in the blood sense, and this makes their connection real, even if seemingly impossible.
Dice Clay, most surprisingly, offers a nice supporting role as Ginger’s old flame, a man who had financial problems with Jasmine and her husband. Sarsgaard turns up as an up-and-coming politician who might be Jasmine’s only ticket back into the carnival of wealth she so misses.
Allen’s script is briskly paced and nicely packaged with all elements focusing on Jasmine’s devolution. His ensemble directing is finely focused, making Blue Jasmine one of his strongest entries in recent years. This New York-based director, who has ventured across the pond and now across the country, is seeing a late-career renaissance that can only be matched by Clint Eastwood. From Match Point to Midnight in Paris, Allen is using film to comment on the world’s strange, strange ways.
By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com
Written and directed by Woody Allen
Starring Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins, Bobby Cannavale, Andrew Dice Clay and Peter Sarsgaard
Running time: 98 minutes
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, language and sexual content