Devastated by the sudden and catastrophic collapse of her high-flying, upper-class lifestyle and marriage, Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) flees the skyscrapers of New York for the quaintness of San Francisco. Intentionally modernising the theatrical characters and themes of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire and grounding these in the wake of a post-GFC America, Woody Allen’s latest dramedy is yet another funny and unforgettable entry into his peculiar and notable catalogue.
Nearing his 80th year and after some 46 features, Allen’s much celebrated career has always been marred by inconsistency. For every grand Annie Hall (1977) and Midnight in Paris (2011), there’s usually an inferior September (1987) or Scoop (2006) to remind us that even the best can miss the mark. Thankfully, Blue Jasmine finds Allen in fine form thanks to an outstanding ensemble of actors, headlined by an absolutely transformative and Oscar-worthy performance by Cate Blanchett.
Blanchett’s Jasmine loses everything thanks to the shady business dealings of former unfaithful husband Hal (Alec Baldwin). Gone are the banquettes, the mansions and the diamonds. On the absolute precipice of a total mental breakdown, a deeply wounded Jasmine is forced to reside in the near-impoverished apartment of her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins – excellent). Aghast by almost every decision Ginger has made, Jasmine is even less impressed by the ‘losers’ Ginger is drawn to. Ginger’s interchangeable flames – Bobby Cannavale, Andrew Dice Clay and Louis CK – each bring their own beguiling version of masculine boldness to the screen. In particular, the bravura Cannavale devours his scenery with the same gusto that he did during his villainous run in the third season of Boardwalk Empire.
Blanchett’s talents are truly immeasurable. Just when you think the highly awarded actress couldn’t possibly best her previous efforts, she delivers a gritty and unravelling performance that should defy any previously held convictions of the performer. Blanchett is spellbinding as she strips herself of the class and grace that she typically emanates. In the hands of a lesser actress, Jasmine’s selfish and elitist demeanour would not demand the empathy or compassion needed to relate to the spiralling character. But Blanchett’s inspired turn is humiliating, painful and uncomfortably comedic.
Despite a somewhat sporadic narrative, Blue Jasmine is a masterclass in top-notch acting and a brilliant character study that should finally award Cate Blanchett the Best Actress in a Leading Role that she rightly deserves.