Title: Blue Jasmine
Director: Woody Allen
Major Players: Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin
Out Of Five? 4.5
I have, as I discovered this week, a massive gap in my knowledge of Woody Allen films. 26 years. The last film I saw of his was Radio Days, back in 1987, which means that others, ranging from Mighty Aphrodite to Vicky Christina Barcelona and Midnight In Paris have completely passed me by. But, thankfully, his latest, Blue Jasmine, hasn’t.
Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) seems to have it all – an idyllic marriage with wheeler-dealer husband Hal (Alec Baldwin), an affluent lifestyle and a house in the Hamptons. But it all collapses when she discovers he’s had a string of affairs and, is bankrupt and has swindled others out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, in some cases utterly ruining their lives. Broke and broken, she seeks refuge with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco, who has a much less affluent lifestyle and tries to re-build her life.
Sound familiar? It’s actually a contemporary re-working of Streetcar Named Desire, but with a different emphasis – instead of the sweaty sexual tension of Tennessee Williams, the focus is mental health and coping with the shocks that life chucks at us. The shock that ends Jasmine’s marriage isn’t quite the same as that of Blanche Dubois, but the emotional impact is equally shattering, leaving her fragile and falling on the mercy of her sister. She hasn’t fared as well financially and chooses partners that Jasmine regards with ill-disguised contempt. And, if that all sounds heavy, there is a dash of humour thrown in as well.
And that is where the most noticeable change comes. When I last saw an Allen film, he was still essentially making comedies. Now he’s making dramas which include humour and, in the case of Blue Jasmine, in a sad vein, bringing it close to tragi-comic. It’s still sharp and well-observed – especially in the scene when a decidedly tipsy Jasmine tries to explain her life to her totally uncomprehending nephews – but there are far fewer scenes of this nature than there used to be. This time round, Allen’s focus is on his characters, Jasmine especially.
So, although he’s assembled his usual repertory style cast who deliver good performances, it’s all about one character and one actor – Cate Blanchett. She is superb as the spoilt, narcissistic Jasmine. Indulged as a child, she has always expected the world to adore and look after her – and when that stops, she is singularly ill-equipped to cope. Her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins) is the opposite, having been overlooked by comparison by their parents and, while she hasn’t fared so well financially, she is far more practical and resilient.
The film moves effortlessly between Jasmine’s previous life in New York and her current one in San Francisco. There is always a natural link between the present-day scenes and the past and the contrast between the two cities reflect the change in Jasmine’s circumstances. New York is glamorous, sophisticated, affluent and bathed in warm light. San Francisco looks more workaday, down-at-heel and less comfortable. We only ever see the Golden Gate Bridge twice, so it’s not the tourist image.
Gap or no gap, this is easily one of the most satisfying and well-rounded Woody Allen films I’ve seen – and the most mature. And it looks very much like he’s found a new muse in the shape of Cate Blanchett.
Blue Jasmine is released around the UK on 27 September.