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Film review: BLUE JASMINE, from Built For Speed

Following the disappointingly light and fluffy To Rome with Love, Woody Allen returns to form with Blue Jasmine, a confronting drama that explores the perils of downward mobility and self-delusion.

Cate Blanchett, plays Jeanette or Jasmine French, a formerly wealthy Park Avenue snob who, as a result of her late husband Hal’s (Alec Baldwin) philandering and shifty business deals, has wound up poor and alone. Forced to travel to San Francisco and grovel to her working class sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) whom she had previously shunned, Jasmine makes a painful attempt to deal with reality of her situation while indulging the fantasy that she can still live the privileged life she once knew.  Despite lobbing on her sister’s doorstep, Jasmine still sees herself as being above Ginger and condemns her choices in life.  She especially attacks Ginger’s choice of men who include volatile (and appropriately named) boyfriend Chilli (Bobby Cannavale) and former husband Augie who is played by notorious comedian Andrew Dice Clay in a surprisingly convincing dramatic turn. Filled with bitter and long-suppressed resentments between the sisters, Blue Jasmine is, despite its sun-lit San Francisco locations, one of Woody’s darkest films.

There’s considerable Oscar buzz surrounding Cate Blanchett’s performance here and it’s thoroughly justified as she delivers one of the finest acting displays of her career. Without lapsing into histrionics she makes Jasmine a brittle, selfish, emotionally fraught, elitist and borderline alcoholic who is sad, admirably resilient and contemptible all in one.  She’s mesmerising throughout the film but the scenes of her barely restraining her seething contempt at Ginger’s uncouth man-friends are perhaps the most remarkable.

Blanchett’s performance as Jasmine encompasses but doesn’t mimic a number of compelling characters from the stage and screen.  Like Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire, Jasmine is a disturbed fantasist whose warped sense of entitlement and status prove destructive not only for her but for those around her.  In her flailing, inebriated attempts to rectify her life’s disappointments, Jasmine recalls Lesley Manville’s desperate, heartbreaking character Mary from Mike Leigh’s magnificent Another Year. Jasmine also evokes Burt Lancaster’s sadly deluded party-boy turned social pariah, Ned Merrill, from the wonderful but overlooked 1968 film The Swimmer.  Fittingly, Woody provides neither an easy path nor a sentimental resolution for Jasmine.

The supporting cast are excellent with Sally Hawkins giving nuance to what could have been a clichéd depiction of a resilient, put-upon working class mother.  Bobby Cannavale as Chilli ignites the screen whenever he appears while Peter Sarsgaard delivers another fine if brief performance as wealthy aspiring politician Dwight who Jasmine attempts to cultivate as her financial saviour.

Whether it’s coincidence or intention, Woody, like Jasmine inspiringly ventures onto new ground but also inadvisably holds onto old habits.  Employing the widescreen or “scope’ format for only the third time in his career, Woody’s camera trails Jasmine through the undulating San Francisco streets, creating a striking look that’s unlike any of his other movies.  Unfortunately, though, Woody still uses the familiar quirky jazz score throughout the film which in some scenes is completely at odds with the events on screen and with Jasmine’s sad situation.  He also occasionally miscalculates the fine line between drama and comedy, at one point he tries to extract some laughs from the sight of Jasmine being harassed and attacked by her boss.

A few missteps may be disappointing but don’t overwhelm a terrific work characterized by superb performances and potent insightful dialogue.  At 72 Woody, has lost none of his vigour as a filmmaker.

 

Nick’s rating: Four stars.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Woody Allen.

Release date: 5th Sept 2013

Running time: 98 mins.

 

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