Disclosure: I lurve the films of Woody Allen, he is my favourite modern director. Even his lesser films have something loveable in them. His new film, Blue Jasmine, will go down as one of his greats, yet it is a different experience to films previously directed by him. He is re-inventing himself seemingly with each new location and Blue Jasmine, set in San Francisco, is no exception. Whilst Cate Blanchett's Jasmine is a nervy, self deprecating character as we have come to expect from his films, and there is a lot of angst in Blue Jasmine, the Allenesque traits end there.
Blue Jasmine is more drama than comedy and when the comic moments occur, and they do, they are more black humour. His trademark music and styling is there along with great writing and perfect casting, but I think Blue Jasmine will appear more broadly to people than many movies in the past decade. Mostly, this is due to the stupendous performance of Cate Blanchett. Much has been made of this performance already, and I am unsure why people seem so astounded, Blanchett is a supremely talented actress, and with a juicy part such as this, there was no way she could have failed. Everyone has already compared the role and indeed parts of the film to Streetcar named Desire, it's very obvious it is a homage of sorts. I also saw shades of Judy Davis in parts of the performance and like everyone else who has seen it has sing Blanchetts praises.
To recap, Jasmine (Blanchett) was a New York socialite, married to hedge fund businessman, Hal (Alec Baldwin), but when he is arrested for fraud, she is left without a home, money and indeed her life as she knew it. With nowhere to go, she flies (first class with her Louis Vuitton) to San Francisco to stay with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), and her 2 young boys. Ginger is the exact opposite of Jasmine, and they haven't spoken for a while, yet loves her sister and takes her in. This is much to the dismay of Ginger's boyfriend, Chili (Bobby Cannavale), who was hoping to move in with her.
As superb as Blanchett is, I don't think the movie would have worked without the precise casting of the supporting cast. This is something Allen, along with longtime casting director, Juliet Taylor, almost always gets right. Sally Hawkins shines as Ginger and holds her own with Blanchett, at times even outshining her. I first saw Hawkins, in Mike Leigh's outstanding, Happy-Go-Lucky, which she won a stack of awards for. Her bubbly personality, literally shines in most roles, and this is no exception. Her Ginger is the perfect foil to Jasmine.
Bobby Cannavale, one of my favourite actors since I saw him in the perfect The Station Agent, is compelling as Chili, Ginger's brutish, dare I saw Stanley Kowalskiesque boyfriend. Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) and Al (Louis CK) round out the other men in Ginger's life, in small but pivotal roles. Dr Flicker (Michael Stuhlbarg) and Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard) are the men in Jasmine's 'new' life. These men are representative of the lives the sisters lead and their (or rather Jasmine's) desperation to 'better' themselves.
Whilst we witness Jasmine heading towards complete breakdown in her new surroundings - having to work, survive on no money, and try and fit into a society she used to ignore in New York - we see flash back sequences of New York and how things unfolded in that situation. This is where Allen really succeeds, there are twists you just don't see coming, and the storyline is much more complex, yet cut and dry, than you originally thought. Is it a tale of be careful what you wish for, or be careful who you tread upon, or is it a depiction of a woman spiraling out of control into seemingly madness? Or does it just show the roundabouts of life if you don't take time to really see what your actions can influence? Blue Jasmine offers a lot of questions, but let's you think about the answers, very much like life I guess.
I didn't love or even enjoy Blue Jasmine the way I loved Midnight in Paris, it is not that kind of film. It is the kind of film that pushes you a little out of your comfort zone, makes you think a whole range of things, and those thoughts remain in you head for many days and weeks after the experience. That, is an example of a very fine film indeed. Blue Jasmine is one of the must see films of the year.