There should be no reason to tire of greatness, so there is no reason to tire of Woody Allen. When the legendary writer/director makes an excellent movie it shouldn’t come as a surprise, but that doesn’t mean it should go unnoticed either. Perhaps, releasing a new film more or less once a year spoils the audience. He makes high art with seemingly low effort. No matter the history or the work ethic, Blue Jasmine is worthy of your attention and then some.
The same could be said of Cate Blanchett. She is one of the best actresses working today and here she gives one of her best performances (if not the best). Blanchett is Jasmine, a former rich Manhattan housewife. After losing everything, she is forced to relocate to San Francisco and live with her lower class sister Ginger, played by Sally Hawkins. If pitting the likes of Hawkins and Blanchett up against each other wasn’t deft enough casting, the supporting players are just as imaginative. Andrew Dice Clay plays Hawkins’ meathead ex-husband, while Bobby Cannavale plays her current meathead boyfriend. Alec Baldwin is Jasmine’s Madoff-like ex-husband, meanwhile Michael Stuhlbarg and Peter Sarsgaard play current suitors. It’s a stellar cast however unconventional, but the movie is dominated by the powerful turns from Blanchett and Hawkins.
The movie is like a cross between A Streetcar Named Desire and Hannah and Her Sisters. Woody’s spin has current economic disparities on the brain but leaves out any judgment. He’s performing a high-wire act between comedy and melodrama, between larger than life characters and nuanced people, and he does it with ease. There’s a flashback structure employed that would feel cheap in lesser hands but the sharp editing and perfectly paced screenplay make it feel novel, essential, and rhythmic.
Woody is fascinated by how these characters search for happiness and how they cope with the fallout. Part of what makes Blanchett’s performance so remarkable is how much we learn about Jasmine from the tiniest of gestures. There’s a wealth of information conveyed in the way she drinks, how she responds to hearing her (false) name called, and the pauses in her speech. She’s telling us everything and then a well-timed flashback will hit and reveal even more. Jasmine is so desperate to mask her dissatisfaction that it leads her to the edge of madness and it’s all right there in Blanchett’s breathtaking accomplishment.
She surpasses any superlative you could throw at her. It’s mesmerizing and Hawkins is there to reflect back on her. Hawkins gives as good as she gets. She shows true vulnerability. She makes Ginger an independent spirit who ironically yearns for dependence. Hawkins is the counterweight and she’s crucial to the film’s success. She flirts with freedom only to flee back into the arms of ignorant fantasy. Woody is in his usual cynical mode so I’m not sure which delusional character deserves more pity. The important thing is that although Woody believes we all die sad and alone, he still wonders about these silly strange characters, and he makes us wonder too.