Written & Directed
How the mighty have fallen. In Woody Allen's newest feature film, Blue Jasmine, the critical observation of a woman's disintegration into alcohol, loneliness, isolation and points where she is social inept are in full force. Allen has presented a film rich in character, but lacking in complete success. That main character, by the way, is an absolute knockout of a performance from the always, I should just say obvious, brilliant actress Cate Blanchett. The film did not completely wow me, but her performance and embodiment of the neurotic standard of all of Allen's films is worth the cost of admission. Blue Jasmine has its underdeveloped supporting characters and secondary storylines, but the scintillating talent of Ms. Blanchett is what is truly worth seeing.
Now, any Woody Allen film is worth seeing, just on principle. The man is a legend, even if he does not what to be or will admit his presence as one of the most talented filmmakers of all time. If its an Allen film, I am there. He has been hit or miss pretty much since Sweet and Lowdown (1999), with the exception of Match Point, Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Midnight in Paris. The stories are flat or not as intelligently depicted and scripted as those wonderful works from the late 70s to the 90s. Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters, Husbands and Wives, Crimes and Misdemeanors, I could go on. Those films are brilliant, engaging stories of intellectuals stuck in the entanglements of love, relationships and life. Also, his love of film and fear of death is presented through those films in wonderfully scripted conversations with the intellect, wit and neuroses of Allen's own perceptions on life. The later films have not been has engaging and Blue Jasmine really is somewhere in between.
The story revolves around the personal, financial and emotional demise of Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) who, after her successful husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) loses all of their money, from his dirty schemes and unethical financial moves. The socialite has to relocate to San Francisco and stay with her polar opposite sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), deal with Ginger's annoying, guidoish boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale) and attempt to get her life in some shape and order. Hal is very Bernie Madoff-esque and Jasmine in the film resembles Blanche DuBois from Tennessee Williams play "A Streetcar Named Desire." Her life is crumbling around her and the relocation with her sister. This really is a tale of a woman on the verge of a complete breakdown and living an opposite lifestyle of what she had become accustom too.
The film is told through flashbacks into the excessive world Jasmine and Hal lived in from her present day situations in San Francisco. It works because it shows the glaring differences in lifestyles Jasmine lived in and is currently living in now. This is dark Woody Allen and the best thing about it, and what stands apart from everything else in it, is Cate Blanchett. She is so in control of this role. Jasmine, who changed her name to that from her original name of Jeanette, is an alcoholic goner. Blanchett nails each neurotic tic and move by deglaming heavily and expressing her agony with mascara drenched cheeks and swollen, drunken eyes. She is a very beautiful woman and never once appears to be in good shape since her fall from Park Avenue lifestyle. Blanchett is that believable and honest in this role. She has gone from the highest lifestyle possible, to finding out her husband was cheating the system, cheating on her with other woman and completely draining them of all the money. Blanchett is a tour-de-force and quite simply beyond brilliant. Some of the best acting you will see all year.
In one scene, and this is just one of the ones where she is caught talking to herself, she is visualizing a conversation she had with her stepson. The real rawness of her demise is not in her excessive drinking or desire to a confusing search for a new career that goes from finishing college, to interior decorator, to learning basic computer skills, which tells you of her disillusionment or displacement away from everyday society. It is these scenes where she is so lost, neurotic and gone from reality that she talks to herself in public. Allen balances them with humor, but Blanchett's eyes show a woman that is mentally and emotionally remote. That is completely unattainable and unapproachable. She cannot accept the reality of this fall and is unwilling to pick up the pieces. She lives agony and vodka. Perfect acting and writing in these moments, and they are parts of the film that are wonderful pieces of cinema.
Blanchett is worth seeing the movie for alone and is an assured Best Actress nominee at the Academy Awards. Hell, she might have already one the award, even though there are still four and half months left of films. She is that astonishing in this film. Allen can direct and write characters for woman like no other. So much life, hurt and neurotic tendencies. When you have Blanchett as your lead and Allen with the pen, it is spectacular to see the two at work. Sally Hawkins is also quite good in the film, but could have had more to chew on I thought. The rest of the supporting players is where the film beings to really falter.
The films supporting characters are underwritten and are little to be entertained by or interested in. Baldwin is used in the flashbacks and is great at being unlikeable, but is a seen little in the film. The real problem is Cannavale and the romantic interests of the sisters in San Francisco. Cannavale, who can be great, see The Station Agent, is annoying and I cringed every time he was on screen. I believe he was written to be a douche and if that is the full case he was good at it, but I did not care for his all-over-the-place accent and simpleton attitude. Relationships that accumulate with a forceful dentist played by Michael Stuhlberg, on Jasmine and one with Louis C.K.'s character and Ginger, seem to go nowhere and add nothing to the story. It did not bring any depth or comedy to this dramatic story.
The one bright spot was Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), Ginger's ex-husband, who won the lottery and invested the money with Hal, losing it all. He is so refreshing in this role. Real acting chops. No funny one liners and cocky attitude. In a scene where he comes across Jasmine and her new boyfriend Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard) in San Francisco, he confesses is disdainful feelings toward her. The way she is using and needing her sister now, but before, when the wealth was there, did not want Ginger and Augie around when they visited New York City. He held his own with Blanchett and was a real joy in the film.
I am a huge Woody Allen fan, probably my favorite director, and I have always related to his neurotic and insightful view on life. Yes, insightful. I did not find this film to be a knockout, but as it went along I fell into it and enjoyed the result. I can always find something about an Allen film I like and with this one, it is all about Cate Blanchett. Some times its the story, characters, Gordon Willis' breathtaking cinematographer (especially in Manhattan), acting or a combination of everything. Blue Jasmine is truly about seeing Cate Blanchett in an absolutely mesmerizing performance of a woman in a deep, alcoholic induced life crisis. Magnificent. The writing is good when in comes to the story and the character of Jasmine, but lacking in the supporting parts. Your not perfect always, but, yes, it is a Woody Allen film so you have to go see it!