Black and Blue; ‘Blue Jasmine’ (2013).

27 Sep

Blue Jasmine posterIt’s that time of year again! Christmas has come early for Woody Allen connoisseurs, as his annual motion picture hits cinemas. Arriving amidst a flurry of eager anticipation and wrapped in Allen’s trademark studio polish, the real treat is that Blue Jasmine not only betters 2012’s middling To Rome with Love, but also presents a career highlight for the veteran director.

After a three-year European holiday, Allen returns to the United States (sun-soaked San Francisco to be exact), where the singularly uptight Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) comes to stay with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Reeling from the imprisonment of her husband (Alec Baldwin) and corresponding collapse of her affluent social life, the movie follows her downfall from riches to rags and how she deals with the resulting emotional trauma.

Allen’s filmic endeavours can usually be neatly divided into either the ‘comedy’ or ‘drama’ brackets; Blue Jasmine is a rare example in that neither shoe really fits. The peppy trailer and neurotic female star are both comedic Woody Allen hallmarks, and undoubtedly funny moments are sprinkled throughout the film’s 98 minutes.

But only a masochist could label this a comedy. Blue Jasmine is tragic in the classical sense of the word in that it examines a powerful figure’s fall from grace. Jasmine is a mess, boasting a litany of mental issues while simultaneously combating apparent alcoholism (she’s hooked on Stolichnaya, no less). Her downward spiral is difficult to watch at times, and as various secrets are revealed, her collapse becomes increasingly upsetting.

Although she’s the protagonist here, Jasmine presents next to no redeeming qualities whatsoever. A condescending, elitist snob who avoids her impoverished sister like the plague, until of course she needs a favour, that we sympathise with her at all is not only a testament to Blanchett’s acting prowess, but also a reinforcement of the scriptwriting and directing talent of Woody Allen.

Blue Jasmine also features a spectacular supporting cast. Sally Hawkins is marvellously convincing as the ditsy Ginger, Michael Stuhlbarg has a handful of wonderful scenes as a pervy dentist (the hilariously-titled ‘Dr. Flicker’, who refuses “to beat about the bush”); and who knew Louis C.K. could act? This veritable cornucopia of stellar performances should linger in the minds of Oscar nominators in the coming months.

Eyebrows are raised at the inclusion of an older man running off with a teenage girl, though Allen movies usually bear some semblance of autobiography. More sociologically-minded folk may also find Allen’s miscomprehension of the working class slightly nauseating – Ginger’s “hovel” of a flat is charming and spacious, while the less wealthy characters sport embarrassingly awful haircuts that only the blind could appreciate.

That said, Blue Jasmine is Allen’s most emotionally complex movie in a long time, featuring perhaps Cate Blanchett’s greatest performance yet. It’s a tough but rewarding Woody classic.

Simon says: Allen’s best work in years.

[Written for GCN]

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