Every couple of years now it seems Woody Allen makes a film that gets hailed as a ‘comeback’ or ‘return to form’ and so on. It makes little sense really, his last two mooted ‘comebacks’ occurred in the last five years (Vicky Christina Barcelona and Midnight in Paris). True, both films were immediately followed by ones regarded as disappointments (Whatever Works and To Rome with Love) but this whole notion that Allen’s been making poor films for the last twenty-odd years is really quite inaccurate and unfair. I’ve seen just over half of his films now from throughout his career and they’ve always seemed a bit hit-and-miss to me, besides, I wasn’t overly impressed with either Vicky Christina Barcelona or Midnight in Paris, and thought the best film he’d made this century was Melinda and Melinda. So his latest, Blue Jasmine, is the next in line to be described by critics as ‘his best in years’, this time though, I’m with them.
Cate Blanchett gives an outstanding performance in the title role as Jasmine, a former New York socialite accustomed to a life of incredible luxury and little stress, whose has found herself forced to move in with her working class adoptive sister (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco after her husband (Alec Baldwin) was found guilty of financial fraud and imprisoned. Jasmine struggles to adapt to this new way of life, in which she must get a job and be self-reliant for the first time in many years.
Blue Jasmine is Woody Allen in dramatic mode, certainly one of the most serious films of his I’ve seen, there are darker themes present, indeed Jasmine may be mentally ill (she’s introduced essentially taking at length to herself on a plane). That’s not so say it’s without humour, there are some laughs, and they all flow naturally from the story. There are no one-liners and no ‘Woody Allen character’.
Allen’s often seemed to be able to add new and sometimes outlandish elements to his stories without ever really altering his style, such as the time travel in Midnight in Paris. There’s nothing supernatural about Blue Jasmine but he adopts an atypical narrative structure. The film continually flashes back to Jasmine’s life in New York prior to her husband’s incarceration. These scenes make up almost half of the film and play out chronologically, but interspersed with the present day story in San Francisco. These scenes really flesh out all the characters, not only Jasmine and her husband, as her sister and her then-husband visit New York at one point. This form of storytelling serves to effectively heighten the dramatic events that occur, more so than if the whole film had just been a more straightforward, two-act affair. The film even includes a significant and surprising twist. There are a few of Allen’s more divisive traits present too though, such as his continual presentation of every new city in an overly whimsical, postcard-happy manner (I went to San Francisco once and it certainly looked nothing like the gorgeous destination we see here).
Blanchett has been deservedly getting heaps of praise for her work in this film, and is all but certain to get an Oscar nomination. Her performance is undoubtedly fantastic. Jasmine is a thoroughly self-absorbed and disagreeable character who looks down on all those around her, ugly details about her are continually revealed through the expertly written dialogue, but she’s a fully three-dimensional presence, and while there’s some satisfaction to be had seeing someone like her taken down a few notches, the strength of Blanchett’s performance ultimately gains her some sympathy too. As great as she may be, Blanchett shouldn’t be taking all the attention away from the rest of the cast, who all do excellent work in the numerous supporting roles.
Blue Jasmine is an example of Allen at the top of his game, delivering a compelling, skilfully crafted human drama, elevated by a group of top-notch performers. Allen doesn’t look like he’ll ever stop making films, and as long as he is, it seems he’ll remain a relevant figure in cinema.