I admit I was taken by surprise when I saw Blue Jasmine. The bush telegraph drums – yes, dear reader, I was in Africa with no wi-fi, internet or even phone –had extolled the virtues of the new Woody, so on return I rushed to see it, taking mother-in-law who needed cheering up.
Oh dear! Thinking it would be a wry comedy, albeit with Allen-esque black humour, we were both taken aback by how ‘blue’ the film is. I should have been warned by the film’s title. But being used to puns I was thinking more on the lines of: Is it because Jasmine, our prescription-drug and booze addicted anti-heroine, was first swept off her feet by bounder multimillionaire Hal to the tune of Blue Moon, or because it simply describes her frame of mind? How wrong can you be! What does become obvious as the film proceeds is that it is not a typical Allen comedy. I could hear mother-in-law sighing deeply.
Jasmine is a New York socialite who has fallen on hard times – so hard that she lands herself in San Francisco on her down-at-heel sister Ginger, a skinny little Sally Hawkins, who is somehow mother to two obese boys – but not so hard that she doesn’t fly first class or arrive with four Louis Vuitton cases.
Jasmine’s ability to self-delude lies at the heart of this film: quick to criticise Ginger for loving losers – conveniently forgetting that Ginger’s first husband Augie’s biggest loss was all due to his trusting Hal with his lottery windfall – and slow to take a long, hard look at her own role in her downfall.
In between popping pills and drinking huge slugs of vodka, Jasmine repeats endless mantras of ‘getting it together’ and putting the past ‘behind her’. Unable to use a computer, she is nevertheless determined to follow that favourite Allen profession of interior designer, and meanwhile takes a job as a dentist’s receptionist to fund it. The dentist, Dr Flicker (Michael Stuhlbarg) is the cameo character (normally Woody himself) of ardent and ridiculous admirer, imbuing the film with some cringing, yet comic, moments.
Allen seamlessly weaves us from the dreary present to the glamorous past of the Hamptons, 5thAvenue, charity parties, polo – and I don’t mean Ralph Lauren, shopping and parties to chart the rise and fall of Hal with his Ponzi schemes and Madoff-style scams. Little glimpses of Jasmine’s suspicions flash momentarily throughout, as we begin to piece together the collapse of the marriage and the widowhood of our leading lady.
As we lurch from crisis to crisis our screen is filled with Cate Blanchett’s face, bleary-eyed, blotchy, puffy and distraught, her mouth turning down in disgust at all she sees. This is a tour de force of a performance and, like Julianne Moore in Maisie, a brave one. Blanchett, renowned for her luminous beauty and poise, morphs into a Tennessee Williams character – ugly, tragic and battered by life.
Sally Hawkins, echoes her first goofy role in Happy-Go-Lucky with a gamine practicality more akin to Made in Dagenhamthat makes one warm to her and cross fingers that she will win through, despite the best-efforts of her deluded sister.
The other supporting actors all get their characters to a T – Alec Baldwin is the perfect Wall Street scumbag – smooth, womanizing and totally insincere; one can’t help but have a soft spot for Ginger’s on/off fiancée, Chili (Bobby Cannavale) and his unsophisticated take on life – anathema to Jasmine as you can imagine, with her priggish and snobby ways. There are some comic moments here, as Jasmine perfects her lip-curling disdain. As ever, Allen populates his movies with people we have all met before, somewhere.Critics have noted this as a return to form; to my mind it’s more a new departure as the Woody Allen I remember from the dim and distant past was more witty than woeful; the in-between period was just rather dire; his real Blue period if you like. Nevertheless, despite leaving the cinema with dampened spirits this is an absorbing and brilliantly acted film, and one that will continue to win many plaudits and, no doubt, Oscars all round.