Blue Jasmine is what you might call a specialist film. I mean this in the sense that fans of Woody Allen will be rejoicing at his latest creation, whilst all others may be generally indifferent to yet another piece of the high anxiety, low octane social commentary that he is so very skilled at producing. I myself happen to be in the fan camp when it comes to Woody Allen, and was pleased to emerge from the cinema having being treated to probably his best work since 2008’s Vicky Christina Barcelona. The film tells the riches to rags tale of self-titled ‘Jasmine’ Francis (Cate Blanchett), detailing her fall from grace and spiral in to the depths of mental breakdown after the conviction and suicide of fraud committing husband Hal (Alec Baldwin). Though gravely serious in its core theming, Blue Jasmine manages to remain remarkably upbeat throughout and this must be put down to the talent of Allen and the way in which he is able to make us laugh over a woman who is quite spectacularly unravelling before our eyes. The type of humour used is one synonymous, almost copyrighted, to the work of the writer/director, think Annie Hall, Manhattan, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger and you will know exactly the tone at which the picture is pitched. This amalgamation of sinister yet comical is perfectly displayed in a scene in which Jasmine is romantically confronted by the dentist she has conceded to work for. What is an awkwardly funny scene of rejection very quickly turns in to a scene of borderline sexual assault, and whilst the tone of the film changes in a second, I found that I was still laughing. A very strange sensation to recollect, finding such humour in a character’s discomfort, and something that I think few other than Woody Allen could achieve.
So all in all a familiar, tried and tested approach here from Mr. Allen, what then makes Blue Jasmine something more than just another box to be ticked off by fans of the director? The answer, quite simply, is Cate Blanchett. From voice to hair to costume, everything about Blanchett in the lead role is mesmerising. It takes a lot of skill to create a character whom you simultaneously like and dislike, and Jasmine certainly falls in to such a category. She must be present on screen in no less than 90% of the total running time, yet I felt that I could have sat and watched her for much, much longer. The role demands exquisite comic timing and the ability to become as fragile as glass, qualities that Blanchett appears to have in abundance. Woody Allen’s greatest works are those that include a single character that bounces off the rest of the film whilst as the same time carrying its weight, and this is certainly the case in Blue Jasmine.
As has come to be expected from any Woody Allen film, the cast of supporting actors are excellent. Sally Hawkins as Jasmine’s adoptive sister Ginger is as loveable and understanding a character as you’ll see all year. The dynamic between the two women is very deliberately constructed to be one of extreme opposites, and Hawkins provides a refreshing break at times from Blanchett’s energy consuming intensity. The real star support, though, comes from Alec Baldwin in the role of husband Hal. Deceased from the beginning of the film, Hal’s scenes are relayed in a series of flashbacks detailing the lavish life that he provided for Jasmine, who eventually becomes less and less oblivious to his affairs and criminal doings. Baldwin is perfectly cast in a role that requires us to believe he could be an international scale fraudster, perfect husband, and less than perfect husband all in one. I feel that if I were Jasmine I’d have been fooled for as long as she was, or perhaps just cared to look the other way, he was suave and handsome, yo.
So overall, Blue Jasmine is a film that very much abides by the golden rules of the Woody Allen canon whilst at the same time broadening the boundaries ever so slightly. Rather than focusing on the mundane, smaller social anxieties of characters that has served him so well in the past, Allen confronts a much darker and more serious beast in full on mental illness. The transition appears to have been effortless for him, and the writer has been helped endlessly in this case by an outstanding actress. In recent years the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences seem to have moved on from historical drama and developed a penchant for the theme of mental health in their award winners. If Jennifer Lawrence was deserving of Best Actress for Silver Linings Playbook last year, then Blanchett will be in need of a double sized, twice polished statuette with a diamond necklace round its neck come March 2nd 2014.
Or, perhaps, a wreath of jasmine…