Woody Allen’s later movies are proving to be predictably erratic. His last, set in Rome, was a dismal affair, but the one preceding it, in Paris, was sublime. As for Barcelona… well, let’s just not go there.
Back on home soil, he has this time delivered what might come to be regarded as a signature work – when he’s good he’s great, and this is vintage. As an artist who has maintained an affectionate high regard for his predecessors, Allen enjoys nothing better than to re-invent seminal characters from cinema’s past.
Blue Jasmine – Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) is a New York socialite who has fallen on hard times following the arrest and suicide of her wheeler-dealer husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin). On the turps, broke and going to pieces, she lobs at her half-sister’s cosy but downmarket flat in San Francisco. She imposes herself regally on Ginger (Sally Hawkins), whose marriage was a victim of Hal’s skullduggery, and comes between her and her rowdy, roughhouse boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale) – it is Blanche Dubois, Stella and Stanley Kowalski all over again.
Unusually for Allen, the story’s structure includes a high number of time jumps that take us from the present to when Hal and Jasmine were major players on Wall Street and Park Avenue. The transitions are handled smoothly and an easy rhythm is established early and maintained throughout.
Jasmine is not easy to like – she is far too deluded and judgmental – which makes it difficult to feel sympathy for her. Damaged people need special treatment and Allen, you suspect, is pleading for forgiveness for Jasmine and in the last disturbing scene he very nearly wins it. But is there a limit to what we can we expect from or give to others? And how do we know when we’ve reached it?
Blanchett pushes the envelope to an uncomfortable degree in her best part for a ages, but equally good are Hawkins and Cannavale – as a spindly little bird and bull in a china shop, they are perfectly matched.
~ John Campbell