With the release of Blue Jasmine, a phrase being thrown around quite frequently is that it marks a ‘return to form for Woody Allen’, a redundant statement that seems to have been attached to half the pictures he has made in the last ten years. The truth is that over his six decade career he has made his fair share of forgettable and classic films, yet somehow this one seems to fit both of these descriptions.
Blue Jasmine tells the story of the eponymous Jasmine (Blanchett), the former wife of a Bernie Madoff-type figure (Baldwin), who is forced to move into the home of her adoptive sister Ginger (Hawkins) in a working class area of San Francisco until she can get her life together again. The source of the film’s drama and comedy might seem very apparent from this brief synopsis. It’s a fish out of water tale of a woman who goes from a place of elegance and comfort to just the opposite, and her struggle to come to terms with her new perspective on class and wealth. This really isn’t that film. Rather, it’s a character study of a woman unable to adapt to new surroundings. Jasmine is the ultimate focal point of the film and it really is engaging to see her react to her new life.
Cate Blanchett is a powerhouse; Jasmine being both deeply unpleasant and arrogant but also sympathetic, she acts in such a way that you feel she’s constantly one step away from completely losing it. Worth a mention also is the character Chilli played by Bobby Cannavale, Ginger’s surprisingly sensitive boyfriend, who turns out to be the standout from a host of brilliant supporting characters. What hasn’t been particularly prominent in the marketing is the role that mental illness plays. Jasmine is severely depressed and anxious, often babbling about her life to those uninterested or even just to herself (a scene in which she unloads her problems onto her nephews is a high point). It is both funny and heartbreaking to see this unfold, a combination that Allen has proven time and time again that he is a master of. Perhaps the most important thing to note about this film is that, above all else, it is a Woody Allen film and this proves to be both its greatest strength and its most unappealing feature.
For fans of Allen’s other work, it has everything that you would expect: the nuanced look at human relationships, the neurotic rambling, a comedic perspective on the privileged American middle classes. But as the credits roll you don’t find yourself wishing for more, it is satisfying and lingers for a while.
As a seasoned veteran of Hollywood, Allen has been afforded the luxury of complete creative control, and here lies the inherent problem. More than any other film he has made since Shadows and Fog, this may be his most impenetrable for those who are not calibrated to his sensibilities. This doesn’t mean that you must have an extensive knowledge of Allen’s back catalogue to understand the film, but it may mean that a somewhat sour taste in the mouth can be left come the finale. This isn’t strictly a fair criticism of the film itself though, for what it is worth, aside from a nasty moment between Jasmine and her boss that felt somewhat unnecessary, little is wrong with Blue Jasmine in its delivery.
A hundred years from now when scholars and film fans pore over Allen’s filmography, it will be a film that people refer to as a high point in his later career, a neat encapsulation of the same themes that he explored in his earlier years. Blue Jasmine isn’t a brilliant film, but it certainly is a brilliant Woody Allen film.