Woody Allen’s much-acclaimed new film, Blue Jasmine, deserves all its accolades. It’s certainly first-rate filmmaking and quite possibly the most intricately structured film Allen has ever made. (I think only 1981’s Stardust Memories gives it a run for its money in terms of structure.) Cate Blanchett’s performance as Jasmine is often breathtaking because of her uncanny ability to make an inherently — and increasingly — unlikable character strangely touching. The result is a film I like and admire, but don’t quite love — at least not yet. I may love it in time, because I like it a lot more today than I did yesterday when I saw it. It is quite possibly a movie that requires a little settling into and a second look.
That Blue Jasmine owes a debt to A Street Car Named Desire is undeniable. Not only did Cate Blanchett star in a highly regarded production of the play back in 2009 (a production Allen didn’t see), but the overall set-up of the film is similar. Its ruined titular heroine moves in with her working-class sister (Sally Hawkins) and essentially depends “on the kindness of strangers.” But don’t take the comparisons too far, because Blue Jasmine is its own beast, and Jasmine French (née Jeanette) is no Blanche DuBois. Jasmine is a remnant of the financial crisis — an overprivileged woman whose investment broker husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), got caught, went to prison and killed himself, leaving her adrift in a world she doesn’t understand and would prefer not to learn about. When she asks the cab driver who has brought her to her sister’s apartment in San Francisco, “Where am I exactly?” the question goes beyond geography.
Jasmine’s notions of pulling herself together are as touching in absurdity as they are appalling in arrogance. Her idea — which does not include getting a job — is that she’ll become an interior decorator, something she understands she can do online. But first, she has to take a class in how to use a computer. This is clearly not the fast track to self-sufficiency. Her brief tenure as a receptionist is even more disastrous, and she undermines, from the onset, a possible shot at reclaiming her old lifestyle. But this is only part of Allen’s game with here. He effortlessly moves in between Jasmine’s old life and this one, tracing the route that led her to her current state and raising questions at every turn as to just how much an unwitting victim of her husband’s illegal activities she was, and just how culpable she might be in the ruination of others (including her sister). The depth of Allen’s probing is ultimately shocking.
Working in widescreen (for only the third time in his career), Allen crafts a superb looking movie that truly moves. This is, in fact, one of the filmmaker’s most beautiful and cinematic films — something enhanced by the structure of the piece. Unlike some of Allen’s more serious films, Blue Jasmine keeps a strong sense of humor — albeit bitter humor — and retains a typically Allenesque jazz soundtrack. (The latter works beautifully because Allen clearly understands the sense of desperation at the core of the music.) As happens every time Allen makes a good movie, people have called this one “his best in years,” apparently oblivious to the fact that they said the same thing two years ago. I think it’s very good and very probably great, but I’m not getting on that particular bandwagon. Plus, I have some qualms about the extended subplot with Jasmine’s sister and another man (Louis C.K.), but all in all, this is must-see filmmaking from one of our best directors. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, language and sexual content.
Playing at Carolina Cinemas