Due to a mix up on my part, both Paul and Steve went to see Blue Jasmine for Flush the Fashion. However Their reviews were so good, I thought it would be interesting to see the different perspectives. Click here to read Steve’s
by Paul Martin (@PaulFilmDoom)
That’s what Cate Blanchett plays in Blue Jasmine, the nine-million-and-twelfth movie from that crinkly old uncle of comedy cinema, Woody Allen.
Blanchett is the eponymous Jasmine, just defenestrated from the most exalted stratum of Manhattan high society, thanks to her high-rolling hubby, Hal (a shark-like Alec Baldwin), landing himself in clink in best Bernie Madoff manner. She’s not coping well either; when we first encounter Jasmine, she’s jabbering away on an airplane, recounting her life story to the luckless old lady unfortunate enough to be seated next to her.
Such eccentricity is just a prelude though, the jolly juggler warming up the rubes ahead of the master magician emerging – as Jasmine arrives at the San Francisco home of her adopted sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) and begins dousing herself and her depression in enough vodka to give Boris Yeltsin a hangover.
Tension pervades this sisterly pairing, sometimes bringing to mind another love-hate sororal duo, from A Streetcar Named Desire. There’s definitely echoes of Blanche in Jasmine’s cocktail of grand delusions and mental fragility in particular, although this being a Woody, things never get as dark as in that theatrical opus.
Indeed, there are ample one-liners and awkward humour aplenty as the still-regal Jasmine tries and fails to adjust to a life less lofty than that in which she previously revelled. Having been with smooth operator Hal since college, she now finds herself hit upon by hapless shmoe Eddie (Max Casella), a buddy of Ginger’s current beau Chili (Bobby Cannavale), as well as being sexually harassed by her new employer, Dr Flicker (a grimly funny cameo from A Serious Man’s Michael Stuhlbarg).
Allen and his editor, Alisa Lepselter, very effectively cut up the chronology of the movie, so these present day West Coast woes are paralleled with the gradual unravelling of Jasmine’s New York dream in the past, giving us ultimate insight into the root of Hal’s downfall.
It’s an approach which feels pleasingly at odds with the rush of many modern movies to bring the audience completely up to speed and keep them there, at all costs. Instead, character and story are revealed more judiciously, in a style which is literary rather than lowest common denominator.
Jasmine’s plight, if that’s quite the right term, might be interpreted as a microcosmic take on America’s own fortunes in the post-crash era – a lance of self-doubt puncturing the bubble of invincibility that existed in certain quarters. Just like Allen’s tormented anti-heroine, a blend of defiance and despair colour the efforts of the fallen to reclaim their privileged plinth.
Having said that, the real pleasure of Blue Jasmine lies not so much in its underlying themes (as already noted, it IS a Woody), but in how skilfully the cast of characters are fleshed out, warts and all.
Allen seems to have particular sympathy for Ginger’s first husband, the lumbering Augie (played by the director’s fellow Big Apple stand-up Andrew Dice Clay), and hot-tempered Chili – whose hair offers THE great distraction of the whole film; two parallel pythons of black fringe adorning a shaven short back ‘n’ sides.
However, strong as this company of characters is, it also highlights one of the movie’s weaknesses: namely, that the blue collar likes of Augie, Eddie, Chili and Ginger feel so electrified by the energy and rhythms of Allen’s native New York that the San Francisco setting sometimes struggles to assert its presence and personality.
With Blue Jasmine having already opened in the States, plenty of attention has focused on Blanchett’s turn as Jasmine, nee Jeanette. The Australian actress looks very much like the early front runner to be summoned to the stage of the newly rechristened Dolby Theater early next year, to collect her second Oscar and her first as Best Actress. It’s a possibility which owes most to her stellar performance, but also to the Academy’s undeniable weakness for genuine movie stars.
It’s also true that Hawkins is, in many ways, as good as her more famous co-star, but the richer character arc fashioned by Allen for Jasmine simply gives Blanchett greater opportunities to shine. One of her standout moments comes when she holds court with Ginger and Augie’s two blank-eyed boys; completely sozzled, and overflowing with hubris as she relishes her imagined return to the high life.
Dark, funny and touching, all at the same time, it’s a wonderfully written, perfectly played scene in a movie which provides myriad such pleasures.
Blue Jasmine is out today (Friday 27th September) and is released by Warner Bros. Pictures Ltd.