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Blue Jasmine

Blue-JasmineDirected by Woody Allen
Starring Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin, Bobby Cannavale, Andrew Dice Clay, Peter Sarsgaard, Louis C.K.

It’s hardly original to say that this is veteran filmmaker Woody Allen’s riff on Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire. It’s accurate though, as there can be no doubt that this examination of fallen New York socialite Jasmine Francis (Cate Blanchett) as she heads further down the spiral covers a lot of the same thematic ground.

We first meet Jasmine – who traded in her actual name, Jeanette, for something she felt was more elegant – as she arrives in San Francisco to stay with her adopted sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Jasmine,
self-absorbed and barely bothering to conceal her disdain for Ginger’s working class world, which includes both Ginger’s ex-husband, Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) and current paramour, Chili (Bobby Cannavale). She talks about making a new start, but what catastrophic sequence of events has led her here in the first place?
Blanchett is the linchpin here, and she delivers an incredible performance, one precisely calibrated to make Jasmine simultaneously abhorrent and sympathetic. Jasmine is a scathing, brittle creature of privilege, utterly bereft of self-awareness, convinced she is meant for a more rarefied existence but utterly mystified as to how to achieve that goal now that her ex-husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin) is out of the picture.

Allen teases out the mystery of Jasmine’s plummet from Manhattan socialite to downtrodden dental receptionist carefully, gradually revealing… well, that would be telling. Suffice to say that Jasmine’s entrenched sense of injustice is at odds with her actual complicity in her own fate, leading to an climax that, while perhaps not as narratively satisfying as it could have been, packs an incredible emotional punch.
The rest of the ensemble cast is great, which is pretty much to be expected from an Allen project.

Cannavale is a standout as the dim but sensitive Chili, while Hawkins invests Ginger with the kind of sweetness and vulnerability that made her performance in Happy-Go-Lucky a few years back such a standout. Even the smaller roles are filled by huge talents; Louis C.K. isn’t really given much to do, but he does it well, and Andrew Dice Clay – yes, Ford Fairlane himself – is actually quite brilliant.

Still, they’re just the setting for the jewel that is Blanchett’s turn, a performance that keeps the film anchored no matter how often it meanders across the comedy/drama median strip – and rest assured there’s plenty of both here.

Blue Jasmine is easily one of the best of Allen’s recent works, the at times searing dissection of class and privilege demonstrating that he’s still capable of taking to the pompous and oblivious with a keen blade. Yet it is also warmly, sometimes achingly, human.

TRAVIS JOHNSON

 

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