Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Review: "Blue Jasmine"

Cate Blanchett was at the top of my wish list for actors to work with Woody Allen. I knew that her ability to play neurotic would match up well with Allen's trademark style. Her performance in Blue Jasmine is one of the single best performances in 2013, and Blanchett's best role since Elizabeth (1998) - when she should have won Oscar's Best Actress award. On top of that, Blue Jasmine features English actress Sally Hawkins in a supporting role! Allen has not spent a lot of time on the west coast. He has only directed one film to take place in California: 1977's Annie Hall, which was almost entirely based in his beloved New York. Blue Jasmine is a return to San Francisco after writing and starring in Herbert Ross' adaptation of his Broadway play Play It Again, Sam (1972). It his Allen's first US-based film since Whatever Works in 2009 (which was based on an old script and filmed quickly to avoid the writers' strike). He has had considerable success in Europe, with Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) winning Penélope Cruz an Academy Award and Midnight in Paris winning Allen an award for Best Original Screenplay in 2011.  Blue Jasmine may be proof that we are in the midst of a late-career resurgence from Woody Allen (if we can forgive last year's To Rome with Love). It is clear with his forty-third feature that he still has stories and characters to showcase. Cate Blanchett owns every minute of Blue Jasmine as a drunk, pill-popping disgraced former socialite. Woody Allen's dialogue has rarely been as perfect for an actress as it is for Blanchett. Blue Jasmine is a tour de force performance from Cate Blanchett in a topical story about financial crisis with expert supporting performances from Hawkins, Bobby Cannavale, Andrew Dice Clay and Alec Baldwin.

Jasmine Francis (Blanchett) has always thought she was better than her fellow adopted sister Ginger (Hawkins). She had money and status living in a New York City mansion with her husband Hal (Baldwin). Her life changes when Hal is arrested and sent to prison for orchestrating a Ponzi scheme. With no money and no friends left in New York, Jasmine moves to San Francisco to live with Ginger in her small apartment. Jasmine wants desperately to rejoin the world's elite and dilutes her pain with Stoli and Xanex. Ginger's ex-husband Augie (Clay) has less than kind words for Jasmine. Chili (Cannavale), her current boyfriend, is also less than impressed with Jasmine's behaviour and treatment of her sister. Jasmine has hopes of becoming an interior designer and her future seems bright when she meets the very wealthy widower Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard) at a party.

Allen's screenplay focuses heavily on Jasmine and through flashbacks he contrasts her previously lavish lifestyle with her current predicament. She was the typical spoiled housewife who spent her days shopping and planning dinner parties. Cate Blanchett is such a talented actress that she never allows Jasmine to become a caricature. Her pain and humanity is best seen through her drunken behaviour. Many comparisons have been made to Tennessee Williams' iconic 1947 Pulitzer Prize-winning play A Streetcar Named Desire which sees the alcoholic and desperate Blanche turn to her sister Stella for help and the ensuing culture shock affects all those involved. Jessica Tandy won a Tony Award for her performance and Vivien Leigh won an Academy Award for playing Blanche DuBois. Cate Blanchett's Jasmine is a treat to watch. Jasmine barely stays afloat and we watch as she continues to breakdown. With an early August release, can Blanchett withstand the rigors of Awards season to claim an Oscar? Penélope Cruz did it, albeit in a supporting category. Blue Jasmine is one of Woody Allen's best works of the past decade. It is a return to his true style, after Woody Allen-lite in 2011's Midnight in Paris.

My rating: 4 stars out of 4.

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