Blue Jasmine (12A)
Dir: Woody Allen
With: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins
Runtime: 98 minutes
YOU may have heard that Blue Jasmine finds Woody Allen back to his best. While that is undoubtedly true - it is a splendid picture - it depends what you mean by Allen's best. Those in search of the Allen holy grail, a snort out loud comedy along the lines of Annie Hall or Broadway Danny Rose, will not find it here.
What is here for the taking is an Allen heroine who is one of the most shrewdly drawn female characters he has ever written. Add to that a towering performance from Cate Blanchett, pictured, in the lead role, plus a screenplay that is equal parts sharp and heartbreaking and yes, this is Allen better than he has been in years, and certainly vastly improved for leaving his European travelogues (and younger female leads) behind and coming home to America.
It is to an American classic, A Streetcar Named Desire, that he is indebted for the character of Jasmine (Blanchett). A one-time rose in bloom now wilting under the weight of misfortune, Jasmine is Blanche with a Birkin bag and Chanel jacket, two items she managed to keep from the government after Hal, her Wall Street crook of a husband (played by Alec Baldwin), was jailed for fraud.
Down on her uppers, Jasmine (changed from Jeanette) flees New York and moves in with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco. All Ginger's money went down the plughole too.
There are a lot of people who are very angry with Jasmine for what they perceive as her ignorance or stupidity. Surely she knew what was going on?
If she was plugged in to reality then, she is not now. Blanchett begins by playing Jasmine as a beautiful, ornate mirror that has a tiny but obvious crack in it. She goes on to progressively smash the glass to smithereens, but with such subtlety that one barely notices the devastation until it is almost complete. To watch her face run a gamut of emotions, sometimes in the space of a single sentence, is to see a consummate movie actress at work. If anyone beats this between now and Oscar night it will be a vintage year for actresses.
This is Blanchett's first Allen. Elsewhere, he brings back Baldwin from To Rome with Love, and Hawkins from Cassandra's Dream. Baldwin, like the rest of the male cast, doesn't have a lot to do but support Blanchett and Hawkins. The latter, freed from the awful Cassandra's Dream, is outstanding as the blue collar striver to Jasmine's Manhattan princess. Allen would be crazy not to use the British star of Happy Go Lucky again.
Between their performances and Allen's deftly calibrated screenplay, Blue Jasmine exerts a car crash like fascination. Though at times almost harrowing to watch, sticking with this Blanche to the end of the line offers a strange kind of sad joy.