Let’s get a few things out of the way first. This is not one of those ‘return to form’ films that artists who have been working longer than they haven’t seem to generate almost at will if you believe some media. Such a phrase is a marketing tool and a critic’s lazy line for designed to appeal to those who last engaged properly with an artist’s work in the early, unequivocally loved, era and must be tempted back with some promise of glories past. It takes no account of the fact that the really great artists make mistakes over the course of along career but also add depth and texture to their work.
So, Blue Jasmine is not a return to form for Woody Allen. Simply put it’s a really good film from one of the era’s premier artists at work in any genre. It’s hard to love, admittedly – Cate Blanchett is Jasmine, whose story is told along parallel time paths; she’d married a rich businessman (Alec Baldwin) who kept in her an impossibly lavish lifestyle. Eventually the law catches up with him; he ends up in prison, she seeking shelter and solace from her sister (Sally Hawkins), a woman for whom Jasmine’s social-climbing is a foreign land. Jasmine takes up much of the film’s running time and she’s not a pleasant person. It’s a gamble to make such a figure the focus of a story which seeks to compel and amuse together.
There’s much going on here, whether it’s in the parallels of Jasmine’s past and present; the two sisters and their relationships; Jasmine’s compulsive lying to herself as much to anyone from whom she may be able to get something; her dependence on pills, alcohol and possessions …. all of these and more give us a richly textured tragic comedy. Some may find the tone uncertain or the apparently deliberately theatrical structure of the story hard to embrace. It’s true that you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. That’s the point, of course. You do both at the same time – the fall of people so obviously living beyond their means and unable to see themselves for what they are is funny, but also achingly sad. What might I be hiding from myself?, the reflective viewer will ask.
Like all good Woody Allen films, the script and direction serve to allow the actors to do their work well. There’s not a weak performance in here, from Alec Baldwin’s money-worshipping deceptions to Ginger’s (Jasmine’s sister) love interests, to the children. Sally Hawkins is exceptional;, and under-stated, as Ginger herself, needy but deceptively secure and strong. Around all these fine and self-effacing performances, Cate Blanchett’s pivots and holds the film together. It’s an exceptional performance, making a hard-woman to live desperately familiar and believable. We all know people who lie to themselves, as Jasmine does; we all know people whose addictions are simply more socially acceptable than those holding others int heir grip, as Jasmine’s are; we all people who use relationships and possessions and money and appearance to distract others and themselves from what’s really within, as Jasmine does. What should scare us is how close to home this hits.
It’s a brilliant film which may be a touch abrasive, a touch too mixed in tone, a touch too subtle to gain the real success of Allen’s most loved films. We should treasure that he’s still working, however, and enjoy films like this for what they are: honest, rich, subtle and deep comedic dramas which will, if we let them, shine a light on ourselves as much on others.
I rated this film 4.5/5 on rottentomatoes.com and 9/10 on imdb.com