Release Date: 27th September
Running Time: 98 Mins
Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin, Peter Sarsgaard, Bobby Cannavale, Louis CK
When someone is as prolific a filmmaker as Woody Allen, there is understandably an unevenness of quality throughout the years. More recently there have been accusations of him being old and past his prime, an observation which has been given credence with the likes of Scoop and Cassandra’s Dream, and then tempered slightly by the likes of Midnight in Paris winning Oscars last year. Blue Jasmine, however, is in another ballpark altogether: returning to the familiarity of upper-class American socialites, Allen is both revisiting his filmmaking past and treading new ground to an unforseeably affecting level.
Jasmine (Blanchett) lives a super-rich lifestyle with her high-flying husband Hal (Baldwin). After it’s discovered that Hal has been a tad dishonest with his tax returns, her whole life collapses around her and she’s forced to leave behind her life of riches to live with her adoptive sister Ginger (Hawkins) in San Francisco. What follows is a series of misadventures as Jasmine tries to piece her life back together and come to terms with life without wealth. Or at least that’s the basic outline; Blue Jasmine eloquently tackles a number of issues, including but not limited to class differences, mental illness, daily occurrences of misogyny and prescribed gender roles. For a director whose output has often been about women as the subject of his own personal sexual fantasy, it’s refreshing that he should make a film which sees the consequences of women being the victims of societal expectations.
The narrative follows the two sisters getting caught up in a series of let downs from the men in their life: they are lied to, sexually assaulted and humiliated at various points, so they each put on a performance in order to deal with these daily occurrences of misogyny. When around men, Jasmine is an aloof socialite with an air of fake confidence: she wears her snobbery like armour as she tries to ignore the hurtful truth that surrounds her. Alone, she’s a mess: her schizophrenic tendencies causing her to talk uncontrollably either to hapless strangers or to thin air as passers-by ogle her with disdain. A lot of the drama centres around this private persona bleeding into her encounters with others, leading to a particularly memorable scene with her two young nephews in a public diner. Ginger is loud and flirtatious; constantly pretending to herself that she’s as gullible as the men she’s stuck with, but outside of that she’s introverted with flashes of intelligence and creativity. They are both victims of the pre-conceived expectations of their gender, performing their roles in order to survive in a world where women are defined by their relationships with men.
And on the subject of performance, Blanchett gives a spectacular turn as Jasmine. At times when her personality starts to crack, the camera moves in claustrophobically close to her face; making these moments uncomfortably intimate as every twitch and nuance in her face strikes conflicting emotions in the audience. Her desperation to cling onto her former self while trying to maintain a new lifestyle is both harrowing and vaguely frightening, but we’re ultimately heart-broken by her plight. Hawkins is also quietly brilliant, giving an underplayed performance as her quietly suffering sister. There are strong appearances too from the supporting cast: the likes of Bobby Cannavale and Andrew Dice Clay especially make an impact, however this is Blanchett’s film, and it’s her that will most certainly be taking home trophies in the awards season.
At the age of 77, Woody Allen shows no sign of slowing down; a fierce workaholic that will continue to produce at the extraordinary rate of one film a year, if his health allows. If his approach seems to be “throw stuff at the wall, see what sticks”, then even if we get 5 more Cassandra’s Dreams, it’ll be worth it for anything close to another Blue Jasmine: his best film for at least 20 years, and perhaps one of his very best. Go see it.