4 October 2013


While I could definitely stand to see more Woody Allen films, especially some of the classics, but I don't feel particularly inclined to seek out critically drubbed fare like You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger or last year's From Rome With Love. By sticking to the breakthrough hits, like Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Midnight In Paris and now, Blue Jasmine, I'm getting a picture of a much less prolific, but consistently compelling director.

In his latest film, New York socialite Jasmine (nee. Jeanette) has gotten used to the finer things in life, but she's forced to move in with her sister, Ginger, in San Francisco after her husband is jailed for tax evasion, and the government re-possesses all of his ill-gotten gains. As the film progresses, we learn that Jasmine is recovering from a nervous breakdown, which only worsens her difficulty in acclimatising to her new life. Inevitably, the search for a new, rich husband becomes just as important as the search for a job, but there's more to Jasmine's recent past than she's letting on.

There's a shade of A Streetcar Named Desire to Blue Jasmine- nothing so substantial as to call this a modernised version or an adaptation, but the basic set-up and character archetypes bear a passing resemblance, for those with an A-Level understanding of that text. But the story of a prim blonde belle moves into her accommodating sister's home, and clashes with her (prospective) brother-in-law is ultimately a subplot in what proves to be a stunning character study of the protagonist, played superbly by Cate Blanchett.

It feels like it's been a while since we've seen Blanchett really sink her teeth into a role like this, but she's being deservedly bally-hooed for awards recognition in this decidedly unglamorous turn. Avoiding any obvious "Blanchett DuBois" puns, (but name-checking them anyway because I'm honestly a little bit proud of that) she makes for a gracefully deluded figure, her privileged composure rattled apart by terrifying palpitations and spells of talking to herself. The latter is particularly haunting, with her voice lowering to a Southern drawl as she stares, zombie-like, into space.

For the main part, however, the film is more about "Jasmine" clinging onto her facade, even as circumstances increasingly compel her to check her privilege. Even though the over-arching tone of the film is somewhat tragic, Allen still finds a fair bit of comedic legwork for Blanchett, most notably in the opening scene, a wry reversal of a common air travel niggle, and in her scenes with Michael Stuhlbarg, the dentist who offers her a job as his receptionist.

I really hope to see Stuhlbarg work with Allen in a more substantial role in the future- his hilariously awkward advances on Jasmine, ("Have you ever gotten high on nitrous oxide?") are great here, but he's the most obvious heir to Allen's shtick that I have yet seen in his films. Amongst the supporting cast, the incredible Sally Hawkins is a stand-out, as ever, while Bobby Cannavale makes for a more wimpy, inverted Stanley figure to her Stella. Alec Baldwin brings some subtle-but-kinda-obvious sliminess as Jasmine's former husband, while Peter Sarsgaard makes for an oblivious foil to her delusions, right before things start to fall apart.

Although she doesn't actually do any narrating, Allen makes beguiling use of Jasmine as the unreliable narrator. He bounces between flashbacks and the present, revealing more and more of the true story as we go. There's a son involved, (briefly, but memorably played by the talented Alden Ehrenreich) and he doesn't even appear until somebody else mentions him to Jasmine. In essence, we only really get a handle on her once we know the whole story- in one instance, a telling lie to her new suitor turns out to be much closer to the truth than it initially appears.

Blue Jasmine would make one part of a great double bill with Jason Reitman's underrated Young Adult- the two films are similar in subject matter, with pathetic heroines, both excellently played, and equally dim views of how far nostalgia can sustain a person. Allen's film is, all at once, lighter in tone and darker in content than Reitman's, and although it occasionally feels more theatrical than cinematic, it's a constantly dramatic film, whose tragic surprises come very much out of the blue.

Blue Jasmine is still showing in selected cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Blue Jasmine, why not share your comments below? Go on then, let's start the Oscar speculation- who will rob Cate Blanchett for Best Actress, come February?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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