Blanchett hypnotizes in Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine"
Cate Blanchett puts on a powerhouse performance in "Blue Jasmine," Woody Allen's latest film, the 45th he's directed in his legendarily prolific career. Let there be no mistake, though: Blanchett is acting here (but imagine the word "acting" in massive letters, like the opening of "Schoolhouse Rock"). The little neurotic twitching. The talking with herself. The breaking out into stressed-out sweats and loud, angry rants (likely fueled by a few Stoli martinis). Yep, this is all-caps ACTING.
Blanchett's turn as broken socialite Jeanette "Jasmine" Francis, however, is the best kind of all-out acting. Every now and then, such as Daniel Day-Lewis in "There Will Be Blood," you get to see a talented actor really sink their teeth into a character while also getting to let loose, and the result is utterly fascinating and riveting to watch. It's all the power of a big, prestige performance without any of the dry self-importance or self-imposed weightiness that usually comes with. Basically, it's all the theatrics and craft of an Oscar bait performance, but actually fun to watch.
Luckily, the rest of "Blue Jasmine" is up to her level, from her colorful co-stars to the script that's both funny and dramatic, sympathetic but with a wicked cold streak. It's one of Allen's most successful rebounds (coming off of last year's not-so-successful tribute to Rome, "To Rome with Love") in a late career filled with them.
We first meet Jasmine aboard a plane (an especially fake-looking CG plane, but then again, this isn't a Roland Emmerich movie. You don't come to "Blue Jasmine" for groundbreaking effects), heading to San Francisco to live with her estranged but cordial adopted sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins, also very good).
As Jasmine would be the first to tell you, her life is in ruins. Her wealthy husband (Alec Baldwin, seen in flashbacks) turned out to be a cheat, both with other women and with others' money. The government found out about the latter, took almost everything from their luxurious lifestyle and placed her husband in jail, where he ended up killing himself. She doesn't even know what became of her Harvard drop-out son.
Now, Jasmine is living off Ginger while she attempts to get back on her feet, a task easier said than done. She attempts to balance school (she wants to become a designer) and working the desk at a sleazy dentist's office (Michael Stuhlbarg), all while in the midst of a neurotic breakdown that causes her to mutter her life story to anyone who will hear, including herself if no one else is around.
Even from the first scene, she endlessly prattles on to her elderly neighbor on the plane, who is tolerant but bails as soon as she can. She needs somebody to listen, though – even it's imaginary people – so she can still feel important and significant.
Even with plenty of her own problems to deal with, Jasmine is full of condescending advice for Ginger about the men in her life and her modest lifestyle. A shockingly solid Andrew Dice Clay (remember him?) plays her old husband. Bobby Cannavale plays her new flame. To Jasmine, they're both just losers, not that she has all that much right to comment since her husband was just as much, if not more, of a loser, just with classier parties and fancier clothes.
Ginger has her own slight little subplot about finding a potentially respectable man in the form of an audio salesman named Al (Louis C.K.), but "Blue Jasmine" is always focused on its titular character, her broken down life and her broken down psyche. That's really when the film is at its most captivating, mainly because Jasmine is such a fascinating, selfish mess.
She's a devastating wrecking ball of a person who doesn't realize, or more likely refuses to accept, that she's a wrecking ball. Her husband's shady dealings ended up losing her sister and her one-time husband almost all of the money they won in the lottery and hoped to invest into a business. Though she constantly says that she had no idea about what her husband was doing, flashbacks cleverly interwoven into the story show that she knew more than she wants to take blame for.
While everyone else tries to move on and cope with their circumstances, Jasmine can't stop clinging to the past and the lifestyle she loved. Her life is hell not only because of the decisions she and others made in the past, but her inability to move forward, accept responsibility and accept what life has tossed her way. It's an intriguing dig at the rich and greedy that helped ruin the economy without taking accountability, intriguing mostly because Allen's recent films haven't particularly tapped in current events whatsoever.
It's fun that even 49 films and over 50 years into his career, Allen still finds ways to make his best work feel remarkably fresh. His dialogue crackles on the screen, both when it's sharply bitter and when it's funny (an awkward double date and a mild dinnertime meltdown in front of Ginger's two boys are comedic highlights, though the film skews much more dramatic). As Woody's almost always managed to do, he brings together an incredibly talented and diverse cast that gets the most out of it.
In collaboration with Blanchett, Jasmine is his most impressive feat. She's bitter, selfish and cruelly in denial, but thanks to Allen's writing and Blanchett's performance, she's almost sympathetic too. When she meets a handsome politician (Peter Sarsgaard) who falls for her, I actually want to root for her. When she lies to cover up her past, it actually hurts to watch. You know where it's going. You get the impression even she does too, but she's too proud to let down her guard. She's rotten all right but also recognizably human.
Neuroses have become an Allen staple, but here it doesn't feel like a comedic crutch and cliché. It feels tragically real, a sign of a broken woman who doesn't realize she's done most of the damage to herself and won't heal until she comes to terms with that fact.
And Blanchett nails every little conversational tic, every cold stare and every confused chat with a person that's not really there. Oh, she's definitely ACTING. But when it's this good, and it's in combination with a script from a legendary writer on top of his game, it's an absolute treat to watch and get lost in.
Theaters and showtimes for Blue Jasmine
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