When Woody Allen is on the line, you take the call. That’s how his latest, Blue Jasmine, comes to feature an Australian and Englishwoman as American sisters. Though nominally a comedy, this movie isn’t very cheery at all. Jasmine may be blue, but its stars are luminous.
Jasmine (Cate Blanchett, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey) has fallen by hard times; her husband was indicted for fraud and their fortune has been lost. She moves to San Francisco to stay with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins, Great Expectations) so that she can “find her feet”. But Jasmine is haunted by memories of her fraudulent ex-husband Hal (Alec Baldwin, TV’s 30 Rock) and doesn’t want to take a menial job; she wants to do something “substantial”. As Jasmine tries to make a new life for herself, Ginger juggles men in her life (Entourage’s Andrew Dice Clay, Nurse Jackie’s Bobby Cannavale and Louie’s Louis C.K.).
The movie opens with Jasmine talking and she never really stops; certainly she doesn’t take much time to consider what other people might have to say to her, and she’s such a giant snob that it’s frequently difficult not to cringe at what she has to say for herself. Blanchett barely gives herself room to breathe in the role, filling every frame that she’s in free of Hal. It’s not just her face, but her voice; she impresses with simple modulations of tone, producing sentences that become more drunkenly slurred with each syllable. That her rapt audience consists of two children is of no matter – it’s scarce that she considers her audience.
Jasmine may blame her blueness largely on herself, but the collision of circumstances that conspire against her would be comical if they weren’t so tragic. This is a woman destined for bleakness, even as San Francisco offers its best weather all around her, and able to be completely self aware and deluded all at once. Contrast Jasmine with her perpetually optimistic sister, who is able to acknowledge her many poor choices without feeling the need to justify anything beyond her own simple happiness.
Blanchett and Hawkins are electric, and more than ably assisted by Dice Clay and Cannavale. Allen has something to say about the individual weaknesses of men and their exploitation of women, and none of the answers that he provides are easy. Allen’s classic romanticism is wholly absent, and a sunny bleakness penetrates whatever internal fantasies these characters are trying to hold onto.
Blue Jasmine isn’t just a response to recent financial crises, it’s much more intimate and specific: it’s about two women who keep sabotaging themselves and being sabotaged, stuck in endless spirals, not just of victimisation but of cruel fate. Blue Jasmine probably won’t make you happy, but it’s a fascinating character study of misery and delusory happiness.
Blue Jasmine was released in Australia on September 12th.
Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin and Sally Hawkins.