Film review: Blue Jasmine
Woody Allen descends to his version of slumming, with toxically witty results, writes Donald Clarke
Film Title: Blue Jasmine
Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins, Bobby Cannavale, Andrew Dice Clay
Running Time: 98 min
There is a sequence in Woody Allen’s Sleeper – an “early funny one” from 1973 – that finds the hero spontaneously taking on the persona of Blanche Dubois from A Streetcar Named Desire. It took Allen 40 years to attempt a full-on reinvention of that Tennessee Williams play. But the deeply engrossing, if somewhat overripe, Blue Jasmine cares not for the passing of the decades.
When Cate Blanchett’s Jasmine is ejected from her Manhattan palace following the arrest of her husband, she moans that she may have to “take a place in Brooklyn”. You and all the other Boho millionaires, honey. She and the disgraced financier (a perfectly cast Alec Baldwin) first meshed to the accompaniment of Rodgers and Hart’s Blue Moon. Forget 1973. This is an America that the characters from Streetcar would recognise.
It was ever thus with Woody Allen’s films (or, rather, it has become more and more thus). His characters manoeuvre their way through a universe that The Beatles and the Stones have yet to debase. The rich are elegant and witty; the poor are sweat-stained and bawdy. We can’t expect Blue Jasmine to speak to contemporary concerns. We can only hope that it works well within its own slightly fantastic conventions.
Though not quite the masterpiece some have claimed, the picture (often funny, but not a comedy) certainly delivers on emotion, sharp dialogue and toxic energy. Following her embarrassment – and the suicide in jail of her husband – the precious, vodka-swilling Jasmine heads to San Francisco and moves in with Ginger (Sally Hawkins), her less pretentious sister. Soon Jasmine is driving a wedge between Ginger and her Kowalski-like boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale). She gets a job at a dentist’s office. She lies her way into a relationship with a rising diplomat.
Allen has set himself the challenge of structuring a film around a character who – admittedly, suffering from some sort of psychological complaint – behaves consistently appallingly to everyone around her. Blanchett does not hold back on the scenery molestation, but her sheer, unflinching commitment proves very hard to resist.
Mixing a bit of Martha from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf in with the Blanche gestures, Blanchett accosts the audience, presses it drunkenly into a corner and demands that it take notice. It would be impolite to resist such fervent industry.