Review: Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine

Posted on 26 September 2013
By Craig Kell
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Woody Allen’s latest offering, Blue Jasmine, creates a fascinating lens through which to watch the downfall of Jasmine while the supporting cast deliver a series of stellar and sympathetic roles.

Echoes of Tennesee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire come to mind when you watch Blue Jasmine, as we begin to realise what Woody Allen is trying to achieve with his re-imagination of that particular story.

While it may not be as original as his previous efforts, the veteran filmmaker sets out his complex narrative to make us understand why Jasmine appears in such a sorry state.

When we see Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) making references to the past in the modern day scenes, flashbacks show her fall from grace and that she has hit rock bottom – especially when having to rely on the kindness of strangers.

You just know things have gone wrong for her when she winces in dismay at the thought of dating Chili’s average-looking friend or having to take an average job. Her ultimate humiliation is being reduced to the point of madness as she neurotically begins talking on her own in front of bamboozled onlookers.

While the story may seem basic, it becomes more fascinating to see Jasmine’s downfall through these flashbacks, which enable the film to skip back, and fourth, a trend Allen has achieved previously with Annie Hall.

He also instigates the bond of family again in his script especially through the sibling relationship of Jasmine and Ginger, two women separated by class yet connected by their strong support for each other’s well being.

Jasmine is the prime example of a destructive individual teetering on the verge of a breakdown and only a brilliant actress like Cate Blanchett could produce such a majestic turn.

It’s been a while since we saw her produce an award-worthy turn but thankfully she makes a valid case for recognition with her exceptional performance as she makes us feel for Jasmine in the same way we all felt for Streetcar’s Blanche Dubois.

Surprisingly though, Sally Hawkins proves just as engaging with her effortless role as Ginger, a woman who puts up with her sister’s condescending comments, yet chooses to live the good life despite being caught up in relationship problems with three different lovers.

Alec Baldwin injects a deceitful and slimy persona to Hal while Boardwalk Empire’s Bobby Cannavale and the scene-stealing Andrew Dice Clay round off the terrific ensemble with their stellar and sympathetic roles.

Another star of the film that shouldn’t be overlooked is the setting, a trait that Allen has maintained admirably with the city New York. On this occasion though, it’s San Francisco that receives the director’s treatment as his production team triumph in capturing the city’s calm beauty without allowing it to overshadow the story.

But as is the case with Allen’s films – it can be hard to decide whether we’re supposed to be watching a comedy or a drama.

Blue Jasmine certainly isn’t as funny as Annie Hall and given the gritty nature of the film and its themes of suicide and depression, it becomes a chore to laugh at any of the ‘hilarious’ situations taking place. Especially when the witty dialogue pops up at such awkward moments, like Jasmine awaiting a romantic phone call so soon after a near-domestic row between Ginger and Chili.

It is obvious too that Allen wants us to root for Jasmine all the way through and while many will sympathise with the character’s appalling state, others will find it hard as she fails to develop properly and never really seems to learn her lesson.

The inclusion of a rushed romantic sub-plot involving diplomat Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard) produces the chief flaws of the character as she chooses to lie and when she does get found out, it becomes hard to defend her.

While it may suffer a few plot flaws and a polarising lead character, Woody Allen delivers again with another bittersweet production and is aided brilliantly by a mesmerising and award-worthy turn from comeback queen Cate Blanchett.