A common conception with Woody Allen is that you either watch his films or you don’t. Blue Jasmine, however, has one thing that should put everyone in the former category: Cate Blanchett. No matter your stance, people should see this for her performance alone. An actress at the top of the game, you cannot see anyone else pulling off such a stunning portrayal of a high-class woman going through a dramatic mental collapse.
That woman is the titular New York socialite Jasmine. It opens with her arriving in San Francisco to stay with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), and her two kids after a messy divorce from Hal (Alec Baldwin). Through flashbacks their history is told – Hal’s numerous affairs and dodgy financial dealings consequently affecting Jasmine’s present state of mind. She tries to rebuild her life but is unable to let go of her upper-class lifestyle that results in some humbling – and comical – experiences. Moreover, it leads her into deceit, delusions and eventually, madness.
For Allen himself, this is a bit of a departure come the end. It may begin like one of his typical works with its light-hearted first act and jovial piano score (Baldwin also retained from the cheerfully weak To Rome with Love), but it slowly becomes apparent that there’s something else going on. There’s usually a disquieting theme blended within his comedy but the humour here becomes more and more uncomfortable as the film reaches its climax. The dark subject matter froths below and is brought to the fore with such realism by Blanchett that it is no wonder her performance is rightly being hailed as one, if not the, best she’s ever produced.
However, her outstanding piece of acting does wash over some flaws that Allen just can’t help. Although there are some moments which are funny, Bobby Cannavale as Ginger’s boyfriend, Chili, is way over-the-top in his NY accent, and the chirpy score should have been removed altogether. Adding hyperactive stereotypes and playful music is fine in his last few movies but the imbalanced tone they bring is noticeable.
Yet this will be remembered for Blanchett over anything else – the range she displays, including her comic touch, is phenomenal. She emotionally destroys the scene, when being told the news by Hal that he’s leaving her, so much so you can actually feel her tears and her anger resonating off the screen. It’s that frighteningly good.
Blue Jasmine has the performance that justifies the need for it to be seen. Beyond that, it is an insightful look into a rich woman’s descent into desperation containing the staples which define Allen’s work – fleeting happiness, bittersweet irony, impulsive weakness – but with a heavy subject matter at its core. It goes to show he can still produce those gems which actually is ‘his best film in years’. And the real jewel here is Cate Blanchett.