The Cate Blanchett-starring Blue Jasmine (2013) – for which she was awarded the Best Actress Bafta – has been billed by many as the clichéd ‘return to form’ for Woody Allen. Precisely how accurate an appraisal that is, lies strictly in the eye of the beholder; the director’s output over the last couple of decades has been of variable calibre to say the least. On this occasion, the fact is that there is an underlying foundation of quality – particularly embodied by several excellent performances – that navigates it away from the lower echelons of that aforementioned unreliability. Instead, Allen’s new film contains greatness.
The eponymous Jasmine (née Jeanette) is a modern day Blanche DuBois in a film that pays homage to Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, even if it’s not directly an adaptation of it. Portrayed by the exceptional and Oscar-tipped Blanchett, Jasmine arrives in San Francisco to live with her adopted sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), after the messy end of her marriage. Coming from a wealthy New York lifestyle and finding herself penniless in the cramped home of a single mother, she must learn how to survive in the real world. Tragically, Jasmine’s growing dependency on pills and booze consumed to stave off another nervous breakdown seems likely to lead to the opposite; her fantasy of reinventing herself taking over.
It’s a show-stopping performance from Blanchett, who adds a Bafta to her commendations from the SGA, various critics circles and, of course, the Golden Globes. She an exquisite mess of privilege, neuroses, elegance and grief; it would be a joy to behold if her slow unravelling wasn’t so painful in and of itself. Additionally, she’s complemented brilliantly, with Sally Hawkins also garnering an Oscar nomination as her less well-off, but far happier sister. Alec Baldwin is perfectly slimy as Jasmine’s ex in flashbacks that show the death throes of their marriage whilst Bobby Cannavale, Andrew Dice Clay, Louis C.K, Peter Skarsgaard and Michael Stuhlbarg are all great in supporting roles.
Even when the plot appears to be flagging, subplots feel unnecessary, or characterisations edge towards too overblown, it’s all hemmed in by the exemplary cast. Indeed, they arguably lift Blue Jasmine from being a fine but unremarkable Woody Allen piece, to something considerably better than (especially in recent years) average. That is, one would imagine, exactly what Woody had in mind when he decided to reconstitute Williams’ play for the modern world and boy, did that work out. Blanchett knocks it out of the park.