Late period Woody Allen movies have tended to arrive on the understanding that, though they may offer flashes of the wit, pathos and psychological acuity of his early work, they’ll never match up to Manhattan or Annie Hall. Blue Jasmine is proof that Allen’s powers are merely fluctuating, not in terminal decline: it’s his most assured, affecting work in years.
There’s no shaking the overtones of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire in the opening scenes, as Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) – a broke but snooty New York socialite, still flying first class – arrives at her sister Ginger’s modest apartment in San Francisco, parks her vast collection of Louis Vuitton luggage in the tiny sitting room, and hits the nearest bottle.
Recently recovered from a breakdown, she teeters on the edge of sanity. In flashbacks, we see her enjoying the gilded Park Avenue existence afforded by her husband Hal’s fortune, until it becomes clear that the cash comes from rampant, white-collar criminality. Meanwhile, in her post-downfall present, she half-strives, half-refuses to accept her predicament, relying on Ginger, yet disdaining her lower-class lifestyle.
Blanchett has played Williams’ Blanche Dubois to raves on Broadway, and she’s magnificent as Jasmine: by turns monstrous and pitiable, never aiming for cheap sympathy or an easy laugh, though she earns some laughs all the same. Hers will be the performance to beat come awards season, and she is surrounded by Allen’s customarily excellent supporting cast.
As Ginger, the wonderful Sally Hawkins is the trusting heart of the tale, while Alec Baldwin is a sleek fit for the despicable Hal. Bobby Cannavale is winning as Chili, Ginger’s loudmouth, sub-Stanley Kowalski mechanic boyfriend, who remains morally intact despite Jasmine’s avowed disgust.
It’s telling that Chili and Ginger’s ex, Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), are not only the most conspicuously working-class characters in the film, but also the most noble. While the simplicity of his satire of the social divide may be deliberate, neither Allen’s portrayal of the super-rich, nor of the working class, rings entirely true.
The honourable grease-monkey, the Martini-sloshing socialite, the linen-suited diplomat: Allen appears to have been living in a romantic Manhattanite bubble long enough to become almost as divorced from reality as Jasmine – or as the protagonist of his last good movie, Midnight in Paris, whose idea of the world was nothing but an outdated hallucination. Blue Jasmine is unmistakably a film of 2013, but by a great filmmaker from another time.