Woody Allen is back with his latest film, Blue Jasmine, his New York/ San Fran tale of these current shaky and uncertain economic times we are living in. Cate Blanchet shows off her acting chops in this role as Jasmine, the over-privileged Manhattanite whose entire world comes crumbling down around her when she suddenly loses all her fortune , connections and her family.
It is actually a Ponzi scheme which makes everything fall apart and her crook of a husband Hal, played by Alec Baldwin, is behind it. He is the fictionalized version of Bernie Madoff, the white-collar criminal who like Baldwin’s character was charged with endless counts of financial fraud which destroyed his life and many others. Pain-killer addicted Jasmine now finds herself homeless and family-less so she calls on her more modest and down to earth sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) to host her in her apartment in San Francisco. She then sets off to get on with her life and make a fresh start in California. After her arrival in Cali, the plot flips back and forth between the caviar life she once led and the more ordinary one she’s living now. However, the ordinary life proves to be a bit too tough for her to get accustomed to and this is where the real drama unfolds.
This riches to rags story might not be a novelty, but Allen has chosen to set the story against the backdrop of a New York where the elite 1 % can no longer take what they have for granted. The stories of people who lost their minds when they lost it all were rampant in the headlines in 2008 and continued for years after the economy went bust. This is why Blanchet’s character feels even more realistic. Blanchet plays that desperation impeccably well and it is no wonder why there is talk of her bagging an Oscar this year for this role. She commits to this formerly upper-class snob 100% and gives a spellbinding performance. With her addiction to prescription drugs for her anxiety namely Xanax and booze, she seems to embody sadly all the, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 40 million anxiety-ridden Americans roaming the streets.
Has Allen caught onto some sort of Zeitgeist? I think he has.
At times some of Allen’s characters felt a bit archetypical, but the performances are what make them nuanced. At one point, Sally Hawkins’ Ginger feels so out of place in Blanchet’s fancy NY apartment that she gives Baldwin’s character a slight curtsy when she enters their home. It’s a small move, but speaks volumes about the differences between the higher and lower echelons of society. The mashing up of the two different worlds continues to collide and was most evident any time Andrew Dice Clay who plays Ginger’s ex-husband was on the scene. His macho, mob-like presence plays in such stark contrast to Baldwin’s more prim and proper Hal. Bobby Cannavale also gives a great comedic performance but amps up the drama when he finds out that Ginger has been messing around with Louis CK’s character, Al. ( I so wanted to see more of Louis but I suppose a small cameo would suffice). The cameo by Max Casella is brilliant as well. With these characters, Allen shows he still has a knack for writing in his native New York tongue.
One thing that I can’t seem to shake was that these women were depicted as so helpless and it seemed like so much of their sense of self was pinned on these men in their lives. Maybe this is also the connection to Blanche DuBois’ character in Streetcar that everyone keeps talking about. Blanche like Jasmine is another woman whose entire life revolved around her man. Blanchet’s character shows us how ugly and desperate things can get if this is all stripped away from you and you have nothing left.
It is one of Allen’s bleakest works but it is also a telling piece that reminds us that he still has his eyes open to what is going on around him. He knows how to write characters who can surprise and entice you with dialogue that will have you in stitches. Oh, and he can also nail a great bit about fresh clams!
Blue Jasmine is in cinemas Friday, 27th September.
Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Alec Baldwin, Cate Blanchett, Peter Sarsgaard, Sally Hawkins
Runtime: 98 mins
Cert UK: 12A