It is generally agreed that Woody Allen suffered a bout of average films in the early noughties. Hollywood Ending, Anything Else and Match Point all made critics question whether Allen had lost his touch, and whether, in his seventies, he may retire. But Allen returned to form in 2008 with the Oscar-winning Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and then in 2010 with box office hit Midnight in Paris. Back from his European tour, Allen presents his latest film, Blue Jasmine, a heavyweight drama that has already drawn comparisons with Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire.
Cate Blanchett plays a modern-day Blanche duBois called Jasmine, a New York socialite who is forced to move in with her half-sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco when she finds out her rich husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) has been having affairs for years and has been embezzling money. She tells the police and he is jailed for fraud. Broke, depressed and utterly desperate, Jasmine tries to get a job (she has never worked before) and to meet new people (potential new husbands) but fails in everything. She is so racked with neurosis and anxieties, hooked on Xanax and her drink of choice – Stoli vodka with a twist of lemon – that she can’t move on and instead is haunted by memories of her old life, gradually being driven insane.
Blanchett gives the performance of her career as Jasmine, a woman whose troubles seem to pile up as the films progresses, and who spends most of the film looking sweaty, red eyed, mascara stained and on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Sally Hawkins (Cassandra’s Dream) and Bobby Cannavale also impress as her sister and sister’s boyfriend, dancing around her fragile state unhelpfully.
Blue Jasmine is the most serious and dark of Allen’s films of late, but it still contains hints of bittersweet humour, and never depresses its audience. This is an entertaining and sophisticated drama, with some excellent acting from all included – one of his strongest films in years.