Blue Jasmine

Director Woody Allen's best in years

Also opening this week:

• Red 2 ★★
• The Heat ★★½

Blue Jasmine

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Written and directed by Woody Allen. Starring Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins, Michael Emerson, Bobby Cannavale, Louis C.K., Andrew Dice Clay, Tammy Blanchard, Alden Ehrenreich, Peter Sarsgaard, Max Casella.

Timely, perceptive, and poignant, anchored by a tour-de-force performance from Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine is the best film Woody Allen has made since 2005’s Match Point – or even 1989’s Crimes and Misdemeanors. It’s a wonderfully entertaining film that perfectly balances comedy and drama and subversively works its way towards a devastating conclusion.

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Jasmine (Blanchett) is a New York socialite married to real estate wheeler-dealer Hal (Alec Baldwin) whose life is turned upside down when her husband is arrested for fraud and their assets seized by the government. Thrust into real life and lacking the skill set to survive, there’s a strange fascination in watching this member of the upper-1% get what she deserves – even if she’s done nothing, personally, to deserve it. 

Blue Moon (where the film takes its name from) was the song playing when Jasmine met Hal, a fragment of memory lodged in her stream-of-consciousness internal monologue – which is externalized throughout the film via Blanchett’s nonstop free-form dialogue. At the film begins, she’s detailing her life story to a random stranger who happens to have the misfortune of sitting next to her on a plane. 

Jasmine is flying from New York to San Francisco – first-class, of course, despite not having a penny to her name – to stay her working-class sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Ginger was previously married to gruff Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) until the pair lost all their money in one of Hal’s investment schemes; she’s currently with boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale). Jasmine does her best to drive a wedge into this relationship, too. 

The always-reliable Blanchett is incredible in a role that almost overtakes the screen; front-and-center throughout the film, she demands our attention in every scene. It’s something of a showy role – mentally unstable, tic-laden, dialogue-heavy – but that the actress still manages to win our sympathy is no small feat; the end-of-year awards consideration, which is sure to come, will be well-deserved. 

The excellent, unusual cast also includes comedian Louis C.K. as another potential love interest for Ginger; Max Casella and Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man) as men who Jasmine has no interest in; Peter Sarsgaard as a diplomat she attempts to latch onto; and Alden Ehrenreich (Tetro) as Hal’s son, estranged from his stepmother. 

But it’s Andrew Dice Clay who makes the biggest impression among the supporting cast, as the working-class bum who represents the polar opposite of Blanchett’s Jasmine. Clay, who played himself on a few episodes of Entourage but has otherwise been unheard from in over a decade, is a real discovery here: it’s easily the best work in film the stand-up comic has ever done (apologies to Ford Fairlane).

Blue Jasmine is topical and insightful – with its story of the elite brought down to the level of the common man – and even surprisingly touching as it contrasts the love lives of the two sisters and the mental deterioration of its lead. As things spiral out of control – and we realize everything might not work out for this character – the film has quietly built to a devastating, if somewhat cathartic, finale. 

But what I really wasn’t expecting was just how funny this film is: Jasmine’s sheer obliviousness in the face of her real world surroundings – a somewhat farcical representation explained, to some degree, by her questionable state of mind – is frequently played for laughs and just as frequently scores. A dinner table conversation between her and her two young nephews – gawking back at her, open-mouthed – brought down the house at a public Aero screening.

Like most of the director’s recent work, the well-chosen soundtrack is a real delight. Conal Fowkes variation on the classic Blue Moon is supported by a wide range of period jazz and blues, from Louis Armstrong’s Aunt Hagar’s Blues and Back O’Town Blues to Lizzie Miles’ A Good Man is Hard to Find and Trixie Smith’s My Daddy Rocks Me

The always-reliable Allen has delivered a film every year since the 1970s; while the quality of his output reached a low in the early 2000s and has remained up-and-down (Midnight in Paris was flanked by You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger and To Rome with Love), Blue Jasmine represent a definitive high. This is the 77-year-old director at the very top of his game.


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