Hailed as his long-awaited return to form, or his ‘best film in decades’, Woody Allen brings us ‘Blue Jasmine’, starring Cate Blanchett as a mentally troubled socialite who suffers a fall from grace. Blanchett is the eponymous Jasmine who is forced to move in with her adoptive sister after her glamorous lifestyle reaches an abrupt end due to her businessman husband Hal’s (Alec Baldwin) criminal activities. In a story lacking Allen’s trademark sharp humour but pebble dashed with his visual style and natural dialogue, he excels in offering a social commentary on the fragility of wealth and America’s class system, returning to shoot in his beloved New York after a string of films in European capitals such as To Rome With Love or his most successful box office hit, Midnight in Paris. So if his latest picture goes on to achieve a similar triumph, this can be heralded not as a return to form but as his most acclaimed period to date.
The plot of the piece has drawn many comparisons to that of A Streetcar Named Desire, in which Blanchett has played the lead role on stage, so it seems a fair assessment however Woody Allen has applied his signature self aware shtick to the part, adding his own awkward and paranoid personality as he does with so many of his leading turns, this time though asserting itself in the female psyche. It quickly becomes known that Jasmine jazzed her name up from Jeanette as she climbed the social ladder and we see the film switch to and fro between her highs and lows. This provides a nice balance and a clear contrast between her snooty exterior and inner distraught as she continuously analyses her own life, justifying herself to anyone willing to listen, or even those that are not. It is a deep character study held in place by a rather obvious narrative with flimsy relationships being tested as they so often are in Woody’s line of work. The partnership of Jasmine’s sister Ginger and her grease monkey boyfriend Chili is a joy to watch alongside the gradual decline of Jasmine’s state of mind as she slowly loses grip of her own sanity.
Allen has been good in the past at getting solid performances out his actors and he frequently uses the same faces again, this time Baldwin is the only returning name as the self-assured big shot, but Cate Blanchett is a marvel in the central role, displaying a clear understanding of her character’s unfortunate disposition without overdoing it. She shows versatility in portraying Jasmine at her most arrogant peaks, with equal effectiveness in her despairing troughs into manic depression. Her starring status is supported by an excellent ensemble cast including Sally Hawkins, Bobby Cannavale and Andrew Dice Clay. The verbal exchanges between the romantic pairings is well timed throughout, and Allen demonstrates his unfaltering ability to write believable lovers tiffs, reminiscent of Hannah and Her Sisters or Manhattan. Boardwalk Empire’s Michael S. Stuhlbarg surprisingly supplies some comic relief as the bumbling dentist Dr Flicker, whom Jasmine works for as a P.A. when her finances hit rock bottom.
With a run of awards and nominations in recent years, receiving a host of accolades for his Midnight in Paris screenplay last year, momentum is building in time for the 2014 ceremonies, Blanchett is deservedly being tipped early for nods in the best actress categories and though Allen himself is publicly far from fond of the awards season, branding the whole concept as ‘silly’, he seems to be back in favour with the Academy so it would be surprising if Blue Jasmine isn’t recognised come February. Either way, he has again proven his worth as one of the best filmmakers of his generation, and largely due to a Blanchett masterclass, has created a fine addition to his ongoing and ever improving catalogue of cinema.