Each year has its share of certainties: we grow a year older, we have to pay our taxes, my sports teams disappoint me, and Woody Allen puts out a new movie. Now that doesn’t mean that every one of Allen’s films are masterpieces (ala “Midnight in Paris”). In fact some of them are just dreadful (ala last year’s “To Rome with Love”). But one thing about the bad ones, you always know the next film is only a year away. And maybe, just maybe, Allen will land one of the real gems he’s capable of making.
Here’s the good news – “Blue Jasmine” is one of the good ones. This character study touches on a number of subjects from business ethics to family troubles to rabid consumerism. At the center of it all is a captivating performance by Cate Blanchett. She plays Jasmine Francis, a New York socialite whose posh lifestyle collapses when her crooked husband is arrested and loses their fortune. Penniless and without a place to go, Jasmine flies to San Francisco and moves in with her estranged working-class sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). It’s here that she must learn to start a new chapter of her life or drown in her despair of leaving the affluent upper crust.
To go further, Jasmine is a wreck. She’s coming off of a nervous breakdown, she pops anxiety pills like candy, and she has an affinity for heavy drinking. She still carries her spoiled and privileged attitude which clashes with her new destitute reality. And all of this is brought on by her lousy husband. We see the events leading to Jasmine’s fall from luxury through several cleverly incorporated flashbacks. We watch her husband Hal (Alec Bladwin) and his penchant for women and shady business deals while she lives in a diamond-studded state of naïveté. She’s content with living high on the hog while asking no questions whatsoever. That proves to be a costly mistake, both mentally and monetarily.
Jasmine’s snooty ego doesn’t fit well with the circle of people she is introduced to in San Francisco. This class clash is the prominent focus for most of the film. This is also where we meet the film’s fantastic assortment of side characters. Hawkins is great as Jasmine’s kindhearted sister and I really liked Bobby Cannavele as her blue-collar beau hunk boyfriend. We get Michael Stuhlbarg as a lovestruck dentist and Peter Sarsgaard pops up as a wealthy businessman with political aspirations. But the biggest treat was Andrew Dice Clay. Yes you heard me, Andrew Dice Clay. Gone is the loud obnoxious standup routine. Here he plays a humble, hard-working fellow that you can’t help but sympathize with. And it’s all because of the unbelievable turn from Dice Clay. He was completely natural and restrained. Brilliant work.
But the true star is Cate Blanchett who undoubtedly gives one of the year’s finest performances. There are bits of subtle humor that are sprinkled in throughout her story. But she’s more of a sad, self-destructive woman who has no sense of direction or belonging. Blanchett visualizes her struggles through every fidget, every bead of sweat, and every outburst. She’s not a likable character by any stretch but she’s simply mesmerizing. Blanchett gives a performance that is getting some Oscar hype. Personally I think it demands an Oscar nomination.
It’s clear that “Blue Jasmine” was influenced by other films. For example if you listen closely you can hear “A Streetcar Named Desire” passing in the distance. But Woody Allen has always been a filmmaker who treasures inspiration and when he is on his game he can truly deliver. This is really good material handled by an excellent cast including a surprise performance from Andrew Dice Clay and some of the best work of Cate Blanchett’s career. “Blue Jasmine” may not stay with you for a long time nor be considered among Allen’s very best by the bigger fans of his work. For me it really worked and it’s definitely good Woody Allen.