After middle-age flings with exotic beauties from Barcelona, London, Paris and Rome, Woody Allen has decided, in his sunset years, to return home to a true American broad, and in Cate Blanchett’s Jasmine he has unearthed one of his greatest creations yet. It seems almost formulaic to insist upon calling each Allen release a return to form but if, like many, you weren’t totally convinced by Midnight in Paris and numbed by To Rome with Love then believe me when I say Blue Jasmine is not just Woody’s best for a decade but rivals the classics of his golden age.
Blanchett shines as the eponymous star in this skewed re-working of Streetcar Named Desire infused with a Bernard Madoff modern spin. We meet a broken Jasmine on a flight to San Francisco, escaping her once glorious existence as a New York socialite that instantly soured the moment her husband Hal – a suitably despicable Alec Baldwin – was collared by the FBI for questionable financial dealings. Assets seized, bank accounts frozen and friends long since departed, a maddening Jasmine seeks solace in her sister, Ginger’s, west-coast home. The pair, adopted into the same family at a young age, have gone on to lead hugely differing lifestyles and Jasmine soon finds herself plunged into the kind of blue-collar existence she thought she had well and truly escaped and had no intention on revisiting. Her upstate New York drawl drips with catty condescension fired at will towards her sister’s home, her children and her choice of partner.
Largely seen as little more than a nuisance during Jasmines ‘blessed’ years, Ginger now becomes the base upon which she must carve out a new life. Although, Jasmine was quite content with her old life – tirelessly informing anyone who cares to listen (often those who don’t) about her legendary Hampton’s dinner parties, holidays around Europe and the glamourous setting in which Hal first swept her off her feet.
These sporadic and scattergun recollections allow us into the New York high life, filled with designer shops, holiday homes and bejewelled gifts from partners. Running alongside Jasmine’s current plight, Allen seamlessly blends these memories, navigating away from a tired fish out of water tale to provide us with glimpses of a life lost, as well Hal’s casual approach to monogamy and the root of the major rift dividing the two sisters.
At the films heart is a crackling script, penned by one of the industry’s finest and held aloft by a colossal central performance by Blanchett, a wound up ball of tension hidden underneath booze and delusions of grandeur. It feels like a homecoming of sorts for Allen without ever feeling showy, whitewashing over a decade of midlife ennui more notable for it’s misses than it’s hits. Back on from then and back on American soil, although not so much his well-trodden Manhattan streets but the relatively foreign San Francisco hills. Here again, Allen distances himself from his European phrase – eschewing the tourist friendly scenery – bar one shot of the Golden Gate bridge nestled in the background, otherwise notable by it’s absence – in favour of bringing these characters and their stories to the forefront of each frame.
A genuine return to from for Allen, but Blue Jasmine is more than merely that. A standout American film of the year so far, expect it to feature heavily come award season.
27th September 2013 (UK)
Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Peter Sarsgaard , Sally Hawkins