Woody Allen returns to darker comedic roots with his latest, “Blue Jasmine.” In his 48th film, the 77-year-old filmmaker takes an astute look at “appearances” and what it means to have one’s whole existence based on how one is perceived by others. In this case, it’s the very blue, Jasmine, portrayed by the potential Oscar contender, Cate Blanchett, who is Allen’s muse in which to explore such themes of wealth, high society and delusions of grandeur.
Stunning in the role of Jasmine, Blanchett portrays her complex character in all her prickly, horrifying ways, and yet somehow manages to give her moments of empathy. It’s a high-wire act that’s hard to pull off, and director and actress do an amazing job in sketching such a finely drawn, strong yet fragile woman.
Allen is known for crafting great female characters – Annie Hall, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Hannah and even Hannah’s sisters. Now Jasmine will be listed highly amongst them.
Opening over the skies above San Francisco, we meet Jasmine talking non-stop to a fellow first class passenger. A “one-percenter” who has lost everything via her husband Hal’s (Alec Baldwin) Madoff-like corrupt business dealings, Jasmine spews on and on to the trapped seatmate. She’s come to San Francisco to reinvent herself and stay with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), a modest grocery store clerk with two boys.
Jasmine and Ginger are nothing alike. Both adopted sisters, Jasmine has the “good genes” and carved out a life by seizing opportunities through creating a persona for herself (her real name is Jeanette, but Jasmine sounded exotic) and quitting college to marry wealthy Hal. Jasmine enjoyed everything that Hal and wealth offered — the huge Fifth Avenue apartment, the parties, the clothes, etc. — and chose not to look too hard at Hal’s business dealings and the whispers of impropriety.
Jasmine has always shunned her ordinary sister, Ginger, and condemned her taste in men – first husband, Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), and current boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale) – both salt of the earth, working class men. But now Ginger is the only person Jasmine can reach out to since she perceives her society friends have abandoned her. Jasmine has hit rock bottom.
Yet Ginger, who is good-hearted, hopes to help Jasmine and make a connection with her. But can Jasmine, who has based her existence on pretention and appearances, peel back the layers of pretend and have an authentic relationship? Or will continuous delusions of grandeur, along with booze and anti-depressants, take over to create a mumbling woman one often sees rambling down the street?
It’s a captivating tale to watch unfold. In addition to the fine acting talent of the aforementioned Blanchett and ensemble of Baldwin, Hawkins, Cannavale, Clay, Louis C.K., Peter Sarsgaard, and Michael Stuhlbarg, Allen nails the zeitgeist of our culture of greed.
Although set in the cities of San Francisco and New York, Allen doesn’t portray either as a travel valentine like he has in past films, “Midnight in Paris” or “Manhattan.” Cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe, (“The Others,” “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”) does fine work with in differentiating the more working class neighborhoods of San Francisco against the luxurious wealth backdrops of New York.
“Blue Jasmine” is one of Woody Allen’s deeper works, mixing just the right amount of humor into his multifaceted, character drama. In its richness of themes and performances, especially that of Blanchett and Hawkins, it deserves to be remembered come Oscar time.
“Blue Jasmine” is 98 minutes, Rated PG-13 and opens in Los Angeles on July 26 at the Landmark Theatre and ArcLight Hollywood cinemas.