Starring: Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin
Directed by: Woody Allen (“Midnight in Paris”)
Written by: Woody Allen (“Midnight in Paris”)
If director/writer Woody Allen has proven anything during his screenwriting career, it’s that he knows how to write extraordinarily neurotic characters. From Alvy Singer in “Annie Hall” to Maria Elena in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” (and countless more), Allen’s ability to show off the ugly emotional scars of both men and women and give them an almost grating personality is an art form incomparable to any director over the last four decades. Despite the numerous disturbed protagonists he’s created in all that time, it could be argued that the title character in “Blue Jasmine,” played by Oscar winner Cate Blanchett (“The Aviator”), is the most complex one he has ever written. It’s Blanchett’s obsessive performance that takes on a life of its own and reveals some of the same despair as a Tennessee Williams novel.
In “Blue Jasmine,” Jasmine (Blanchett, who just might end up getting her fifth Academy Award nomination here) is a well-to-do New York City socialite who has fallen from grace because of the shady business practices of her financier husband Hal (Alec Baldwin). With nowhere to go, Jasmine makes a move to San Francisco where she turns to her estranged, working-class sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) for a place to stay. Ginger’s mechanic boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale) doesn’t like the fact that Jasmine has come around only when she needs something. It might be a reason Jasmine starts planting seeds in her sister’s head that Chili is as big of a loser as her last boyfriend Augie (Andrew Dice Clay, in a scene-stealing role).
As things get testy in the household, Allen uses flashbacks to explain just what went wrong in everyone’s lives to get them to where they are now. It’s a storytelling devices that is tricky to do well, but Allen pieces the narrative together with such creativity and ease, jumping back and forth from the past and present doesn’t feel like work for the audience. This is a tragic tale only Allen could write. His characters are pathetic when they need to be, and enlightening at the perfect moments. At the end, they’ll all break your heart.
Besides Allen’s talent with the pen, it’s Blanchett’s total commitment to the role that gives “Blue Jasmine” its gravitas. Yes, she goes a bit overboard (think Charlize Theron in “Young Adult” without the meds), but there’s no denying the powerhouse performance still resonates, even when Blanchett is chewing up scenes like a starved Brahma bull.