A couple of weeks ago Cate Blanchett looked like a shoe-in for the Best Actress Oscar, although that’s been thrown in the air in the fallout from Dylan Farrow’s renewed accusations against Woody Allen, which specifically called out Blanchett for working with him. However while the Allen issues are troubling, Cate’s performance is magnificent and deserving of an Academy Award.
She is the Jasmine of the title (who’s actually Jeanette, but has renamed herself) who is newly arrived in San Francisco to stay with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins). She’s not there because she wants to be, but because following her husband’s (Alex Baldwin) imprisonment for fraud and subsequent suicide, the government has taken every penny she had.
She’s used to the finer things in life and has difficulty adjusting to normal life, not helped by her fragile mental state and recent breakdown, which has left her talking to herself at times of stress. Alongside Jasmine’s new life, in flashback we see how she was before her husband’s downfall and the events that led to the FBI finding out what he’d been up to.
After going off the boil a bit, Woody Allen is back on fine form as a filmmaker and screenwriter. Midnight In Paris had the sort of charm we hadn’t seen from him in years, while Blue Jasmine is evidence of what a great writer he can be when he puts his mind to it.
A fragile woman preferring fantasy to reality has echoes of Tennessee Williams (there’s a lot of Streetcar Named Desire in there), while you can feel Arthur Miller in the crashing down of the American Dream and assumption that the good life is your right. Although that may make Blue Jasmine sound rather artsy fartsy, it’s easy to enjoy purely as a tragic comedy, with a few very funny moments.
However what really helps it stand out are the performances. Blanchett is a tour de force, but the likes of Sally Hawkins, Bobby Cannavale and Andrew Dice Clay are no slouches either. Each puts in a complex, fully rounded performance, creating characters who are a joy to watch.
It’s certainly a more mature Woody Allen than we had to put up in the 2000s, where most of the time it felt like he was continuing to churn out a film a year purely because he thought that’s what he had to do, rather than because he had anything to say. It certainly seems to help that he appears to have put aside his increasingly creepy obsession with having either himself or whoever he casts as his stand-in running around after ridiculously young women. By putting that aside he seems to have realised there are all sorts of other things about life that he can bring his touch to. Indeed the film’s only major misstep is Michael Stuhlbarg as a Woody substitute.
All that said, it is now difficult to watch a Woody film without thinking about Dylan’s accusations and feeling rather torn. She undoubtedly believes what she says and he may have abused her when she was seven years old just as she said he did. However he’s never been charged with anything and is therefore ‘innocent until proven guilty’. But then, abuse can be notoriously difficult to prove and far too many people get away with it. It’s difficult to know what to think.
As an artist Woody is definitely on a high with Blue Jasmine, but all the things swirling outside the actual movie are difficult to ignore.
Overall Verdict: Cate Blanchett is mesmerising in this look at the rich and might laid low, surrounded by other great actors and a smart script. However in the wake of Dylan Farrow’s accusations it’s difficult ignore there are things going on outside the actual movie.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac