Though the movie may be currently overshadowed by decades old events that have no bearing on the film itself, Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine is one of his stronger late-period films, with a brilliant performance by Cate Blanchett as a woman of money who finds herself living with her sister (Sally Hawkins) and on the verge of madness. My review of Blue Jasmine follows after the jump.
As the film opens, Jasmine (as she calls herself) is explaining her previous life with her husband to the woman sitting next to her on a plane. When they de-board, Jasmine (Blanchett) keeps talking, and the woman who sat next to her reveals that the conversation was unprompted and that she got stuck listening to Jasmine’s rantings. Jasmine, who changed her name from Jeanette to sound more sophisticated, is going to stay with her sister Ginger (Hawkins) in San Francisco after her husband Hal – who was involved with some dicey Wall Street business – was arrested and then committed suicide. Ginger is now dating Chili (Bobby Cannavale), which Jasmine disapproves of, because Chili is so low class. He’s not much of a step up from Ginger’s ex-husband Augie (Andrew “Dice” Clay) who she had two sons with him, but when Jasmine’s husband invested Augie’s money in bad stocks they lost everything, which led to the divorce.
Jasmine tries to right herself in San Francisco by getting a clerical job at a dentist’s office and taking classes, but her diet of anti-depressants and martinis mixed with her tenuous grasp on a future makes her unstable and so she often goes off on monologues about her past life. Things look up for both Jasmine and Ginger when they meet men at a party. For Ginger it’s the audio engineer Al (Louis C.K.), for Jasmine it’s the diplomat Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard), who is looking to settle down and get married. But this is no comedy.
As with a lot of late stage films by Woody Allen, there are tremendous strengths to the film, and some notable weakness. On the positive side of things are the performances. Though he’s populated San Francisco with New Yorkers, you’ve got a powerhouse cast here, which may be why Andrew “Dice” Clay’s performance pops so strongly. Though Allen’s minimalism when it comes to takes is apparent when he’s not working with world class talent (and Clay’s performance is rough around the edges) Clay wears his disappointment with life and with Jasmine so well, and when he gets to confront her, it’s heartbreaking.
But the film is Blanchett’s and she works so brilliantly with Allen’s words. There’s a great precision to the way her character talks and interacts with the world, the subtle word choices that betray her contempt that may be intentional or accidental. This woman, who glommed on to a world of wealth, had her world shattered, and the only way she knows how to deal with it is to retreat into the happier times. It’s a knock out performance, and until recently was considered the safest Oscar bet of the year.
One of the great things about Allen’s films in general is that he doesn’t waste time. The man has only made one film that ran over two hours long, and his writing and direction always been so sharp and smart. Even if he’s working over ideas that he’s dealt with previously, there’s very little fat in his films. Alas, if the film has a problem it’s that his concept of the working class, and the class commentary is pretty rudimentary, erring on the side of cliché, though the performers often give depth to the one dimensional nature of their archetypes. It’s hard to say that Cannavale does all that much more than is required of his tough guy type, but he does create empathy for the character, partly in how he contrasts with Jasmine. But he is playing a “salt of the earth” type that can be grating in its simplicity.
If you’re a fan of Allen’s work, at this point it’s fair to say he’s made over ten great movies, and as that’s the case, this doesn’t deserve to put up against better films like Annie Hall or Crimes and Misdemeanors, but this is definitely good to great Allen. It’s second tier, arguably excellent, but not as revelatory or as exciting as his finest.
Sony Pictures Classics presents the film in widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio, but as with all Woody Allen films, it’s essentially a mono mix. The presentation is excellent, and the film also comes with a digital copy. Supplements are limited as Allen has never been one for supplements, but it does offer “Notes From the Red Carpet” (6 min.), which offers interviews with Blanchett, Sarsgaard and Clay, all three of whom are interviewed in the “Blue Jasmine Press Conference” (25 min.), in which – full disclosure — I asked a question. The film’s theatrical trailer and bonus trailers are also included.