The Review: Cate Blanchett stars as Jasmine in Woody Allen’s latest dramedy – a sort of retelling of The Prince and the Pauper, brought up to date to analyse just how far a fall from grace can land you in an unexpected place.
Jasmine is a deeply complex character – precisely because she’s maddeningly straightforward; a lady of luxury, married to a wildly successful business, she’s living the high life in their fancy houses and dozens of cars.
She’s from modest means; an adopted child, along with her non-biological (and non-biodegradable, as it turns out) sister, Ginger. However, the bottom falls out of the good time and her husband is arrested for fraud, her son flees home to avoid the disgrace and Jasmine finds herself stripped of absolutely everything… and on the doorstep of her bohemian sibling in San Francisco. She has nowhere to go and must now acclimatise herself to a life of extreme poverty – in her eyes, of course. To us, this modest, happy-go-lucky (with every pun intended) is fairly routine. But what if you had everything and then lost it?
Allen of late has been like a pinball in a mixed-genre machine; from crime caper, to the downright farcical (the less said about Snoop, the better) it’s fair to say he’s not been at his best since the near-perfect Crimes and Misdemeanours of the late eighties. A number of reasonable spikes – including Match Point, Vicky Cristina Barcelona and, arguably, Midnight in Paris – have not sold me on a return to the glory, heady days of Annie Hall and Bananas in the long term.
Yet – somehow – Allen achieves gold here with Blue Jasmine. I suppose when you make a film a year on a stream-of-consciousness assembly line, the stars will align eventually to produce a fascinatingly brilliant drama. Blue Jasmine is that film.
Consider a character as rich in conceit as Jasmine herself; she’s somehow very unlikeable to us and everyone she meets, but she plays it up on the understanding that this is a career; a life of luxury is not handed to you on a silver platter, even though your three main meals are. Cate Blanchett dominates the role; alternately passive and mad, yet somehow we still root for this ditzy, spoiled witch. And then there’s her sister played in scene-stealing fashion by our own Sally Hawkins. Her Ginger is a twee, goofy solid gold lump of adorableness; the better of the two halves.
In reality, we all know these two people, somewhere, but rarely have to siblings been more at odds with one another. This paves the way from some quality drama between the pair, as they both hope off their previous love boats (Alec Baldwin in typical greasy smarm-overdrive, and a wonderfully sharp performance by Andrew Dice Clay) and on to their new prospects (Stellan Skarsgaard in typical greasy smarm-overdrive, and a wonderfully blunt performance by stand-up Louis C.K.).
Woody Allen knows, seemingly, that he’s struck gold this time around. His labours of “like” in the previous years have been exactly that; stop-gaps in time till a story he lands on truly becomes a story worth telling.
Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins alone wrestle the movie away from Allen’s clutches – yet his script and deft, dry – near passive – direction wrestle it back from them, until both parties agree to let go and climb on the back and run with it. It really ought not to be as captivating and insolently fascinating as it must surely sound on the page, but the movie is truly something very special.
It’s a story of family, greed and sheer apathy – and a welcome glisten of hope to a return to form for Allen which, I dunno about you, I thought had long since departed.
Reviewed By: Andrew Mackay
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