Blue Jasmine

ALEX KEMP discovers that Allen’s latest offering breaks the mould of his recent works, to Oscar-worthy effect.

alec baldwin blue jasmine Cate Blanchett woody allen

Woody Allen’s films have never exactly concerned themselves with calm and collected individuals.

The men and women who inhabit his movies are the anxious and the dispossessed, Allen’s own neuroses brimming from the mouths of the characters he writes and performs. Yet in his latest film, he has, neurotically speaking, outdone himself. The eponymous Jasmine makes previous Woody Allen protagonists such as Isaac Davis or Alvy Singer look positively sane. Blue Jasmine is tonally nearer to something like Crimes and Misdemeanours than most of his recent films, plenty of which have been sub-par; even the critically and commercially successful ‘Midnight in Paris’ had a sense of levity of which this film is devoid. Certainly it is funny, but its primary mode is scabrous satire and sneering indictment.

Cate Blanchett’s performance as Jasmine carries and ultimately makes the film. She is a woman who has, in her own mind, been grievously bruised by society, and by the people around her. A New York socialite who loses everything thanks to the criminal machinations of her husband (Alec Baldwin on typically oleaginous form), Jasmine stands among the greatest of the director’s female characters. She is unsympathetic, moving through her newly humble surroundings with a look of revulsion. Jasmine is cruel. Jasmine is selfish. Unusually for a Woody Allen lead role, Jasmine is also entirely lacking in a sense of humour. What laughs we wring from her rude awakening are directed at her, rather than with her. And yet, when Jasmine is left gasping for breath as she faces her predicament, the intensity was such that I felt breathless too. Blanchett’s performance smacks so much of a real person, rather than a character on a screen, that she pulls off that rare trick: to fully engage an audience with an entirely alienating character. I will be surprised if another actress emerges in the next few months with a role quite as Oscar-worthy.

Alec Baldwin and Cate Blanchett share a romantic moment

Alec Baldwin and Cate Blanchett share a romantic moment

Despite Blanchett’s consummate scene-stealing, the supporting cast are admirable. Most notable is Sally Hawkins as Jasmine’s working class sister, Ginger, the Stella to her Blanche. Their names are revealing, Ginger being earthier, spicier, and ultimately warmer than the fragrant, yet easily overpowered Jasmine. Some critics have accused their relationship of being an easy rehash of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, and it is certainly true that on many occasions the plot looks ripe to go “full Streetcar” with the introduction of two prospective Stanleys. But this in no way detracts from the actors’ merits; Allen knows to borrow his plots only from the best, after all.

One of the film’s slight disappointments is that it fails to spectacularly pay off the sense of impending disaster built up over the majority of its running time. And yet relationships in Woody Allen’s films rarely build to a climax, tending to be more realistic in their aimlessness. The message comes across decently despite the lack of a flourish in the final act. Blue Jasmine can be read as an excoriating dressing down of the class system, or (as I prefer to see it) a film about honesty, the tragic story of a woman with her head buried deep in the sand, who faces up to the truth in one brief moment of madness, and in doing so brings her world crashing down around her. Whatever else it is, it’s one of the best films of the year so far.