Tuesday 22 October 2013

Review: Blue Jasmine

Year: 2013
Director: Woody Allen
Screenplay: Woody Allen
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Bobby Cannavale, Andrew Dice Clay, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg, Louis C.K.

Synopsis is here

The annual Woody Allen feature comes to us with a performance so strong it beggars belief. I don’t care for awards season, but for those out there who have stumbled upon this tiny blog who hold interest I will say this: Cate Blanchett should have 2013’s best actress all wrapped up. If someone else wins over Blanchett then I must congratulate them, as they've toppled a performance of some magnitude.

Blanchett’s Jasmine is a hurricane of destruction and delusion it is difficult look away from. It’s always exciting to someone take a film by the scuff of the neck and dictate things like a conductor. However I found Blanchett to be so strong, that even the other solid displays felt dwarfed.  Allen brings together a multi-faceted cast that engages well with the material. But Blanchett, she just blows them away.       

Blue Jasmine at heart is a tale about someone who can be happy with a little and someone who despairs despite once having a lot. Self absorbed and pretentious; Jasmine is a difficult character to feel for. Told in flashback, we find that Jasmine is held together by the riches of her husband.  Everything is about stature and branding. We notice she changed her name due to money. She looks down her nose at her sister and fiancĂ© with the kind of condensation you only ever find from those who are far too privileged for their own good. There’s insidiousness in the way Jasmine feels the need to tell her sister that she can do better. At no point do we feel that what is said is done for the good of anything other than Jasmine’s self satisfaction. Little bothers her, because material keeps her warm at night. We also think it keeps her oblivious to important matters at hand.

When we find Jasmine in the present and uncover the reasons of why she’s visiting her sister, we notice just how fragile her ignorance and finance have made her. Jasmine is a fractured creature that would get on well with Penelope Cruz’s Maria, whose emotional imbalance heightened the tone of Allen’s Vicky Christina Barcelona. However while that film joyfully played with Latin melodrama, here we only have spite to comfort us.

As the film plays on, Blanchett’s pained performance breaks through so much of the films other segments. Blanchett switches from distant to destructive to switched on in a blink of an eye, and cuts through much of the humour (the support is engaging yet cartoony in characterisation) that tries to diffuse the drama. As the film continues on, we notice just how troubled Jasmine has become. I struggled with the films humour unlike the snorting and snarky audience I watched it with, who had no trouble. Jasmine isn’t pleasant, but it’s hard not to find pathos as Jasmine becomes more unhinged.

That said, Allen’s poor people are doing A-ok while rich people pay for their sins comes across a little false. Despite Allen’s provocative use of form (Jasmine is often bathed in golden hues, or blocked out of focus during certain plot turns ), he never takes his idea as far as he can. We have a conceit in which the high class wives of the financial elite have just as much to hide has their criminal husbands. Allen places a cynical turn on the phase “behind every good man is a good woman” but does little to convince us of his conviction. This loose, modern day telling of A Streetcar named desire squarely lands us amidst the spectre of the economic crash, but fizzles out without wanting to take a good clean stab at the issue. It’s too bad, as Blanchett is more than willing to make the effort.