The prolific Woody Allen, pen and yellow pad in hand during his writing phases, always willing to step back and let his actors do their thing when he’s directing, shows no signs of slowing down. With “Blue Jasmine,” his newest dramatic look at the human condition, he proves that even when borrowing a few of his own older ideas, he’s adept at showing them in a different light, mixing them with fresh ones, and coming up with something wholly new.
Jasmine, as played by Cate Blanchett, who will earn an Oscar nomination for the role, is an intelligent, self-centered neurotic, but not at all the type that Allen used to write for himself to play. She likes talking to strangers, telling them all about herself. Kind of like Forrest Gump. But her stories have nothing to do with boxes of chocolate. And they sure aren’t sweet.
An unpleasant, emotional wreck, she tells tales of woe – about her former days of comfort and wealth, about her ex-husband who caused her fall from grace, about the adoptive sister she’s going out to stay with, totally against her will. That sister is Ginger (Sally Hawkins), who is just eking by but who long ago cheerfully accepted her position in life. She’s a happy, nice, breezy person, if a bit flaky. Talk about your opposites!
Allen’s script (another probable Oscar contender) is structured with casual references and often jarring flashbacks that partially explain the makeup of both women, and reveal how they’ve arrived at their uncomfortable relationship with each other. But even though the film is mostly about them, the men Allen has placed around them, all with less screen time, are of equal interest.
Among those men are Jasmine’s ex-husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), who, in flashback, proudly calls himself a philistine businessman, and is one of the foulest cads Allen has ever invented. He’s referred to, by a person he’s wronged, as someone who “collected Bentleys and owned race horses … with other people’s money.” We find out his fate early on, then discover how much he deserved it. There’s also Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), the ex-husband of Ginger, convincingly showing thuggish, sweet, and bitter sides, and who comes across as very similar to Chili (Bobby Cannavale), who is Ginger’s new boyfriend.
Still, as the title suggests, this is Jasmine’s story. The flashbacks, which give the film its non-linear flavor, allow Allen to continually jump back and forth between her two lives – the former one of carefree wealth, and the current one of desperation that’s turned her into a piece of damaged goods. Blanchett is also front and center in most of the film’s best bits of acting. There are terrific exchanges between Jasmine and Chili, who don’t like each other from the moment they meet, but try to be civil – until Jasmine unwittingly causes a rift between Ginger and Chili. Then all civility between him and Jasmine goes out the door.
Yet Allen also lets good things happen to some of these people – including the unsympathetic Jasmine. But with a strong sense of morality at the core of the film, happiness is easily lost when people resort to lying, especially when the lies are unnecessary.
As he’s shown so many times before, in both his comedies and dramas, Allen is capable of inflicting much heartache on his characters and on us. In “Blue Jasmine,” he goes so far as to present great heights of joy as well as the depths of despair, sometimes in the same scene. But the major success of the film keeps going back to what Blanchett does. Take, for instance, a scene where she’s in a restaurant, minding her sister’s young kids, drinking too much, and telling them her sad life story, as if they were understanding adults. Searing words and ideas from Allen, brilliant delivery of them by Blanchett.
Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.
Written and directed by Woody Allen
With Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Bobby Cannavale, Alec Baldwin, Louis C.K.