a woman under the influence, alec baldwin, andrew dice clay, anything else, bernie madoff, blue jasmine, bobby canavale, cate blanchett, curse of the jade scorpion, deconstructing harry, gena rowlands, gwyneth paltrow, john cassavetes, match point, michael stuhlbarg, midnight in paris, peter sarsgaard, sally hawkins, shakespeare in love, vicky cristina barcelona, woody allen, xanax
As writer-director Woody Allen continues to churn out material every year, one would tend to think there will be a drop-off in quality at some point. Many thought, including this guy, that his decline started with the incredibly awful Curse of the Jade Scorpion in 2001 (I would put this one on a top 25 worst films I’ve ever seen list) and the 2003 dud Anything Else. But Allen recovered nicely with three of his most lauded films over the next decade in the Hitchcockian thriller Match Point, the hilarious and poignant Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and his best film since Deconstructing Harry and one of the finest in his oeuvre, Midnight in Paris. I firmly believe that Blue Jasmine belongs in the same company as these three films.
The story follows Jasmine (the peerless Cate Blanchett) as a former Manhattan socialite forced to move in with her low-rent sister Ginger (played so perfectly by Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco. The source of Jasmine’s blues is her financier ex-husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) who has been jailed because he was the chief leader of a Bernie Madoff-like ponzi scheme. Once the toast of the town, Jasmine has now been forced into living in a small apartment, much different than the expansive apartments on Park Avenue and beach houses in the Hamptons she’s used to, with her grocery store clerk sister and her two young sons. Couple that with the fact that Ginger’s mechanic boyfriend, Chili (Bobby Canavale), is always around, it’s enough to cause her to rely on her best friend Xanax even more than before.
Through a series of flashbacks, we see how Jasmine and Hal used to live – dinner parties and charity balls. Totally enamored with one another from the outset (with Blue Moon playing in the background), Jasmine feels like nothing can break she and Hal apart. But then the rumblings begin of his extra-marital affairs, which Jasmine chooses to deny…until her best friend confirms not just one affair, but multiple affairs. Yet Jasmine lives with this behavior because Hal keeps her in the style of living to which she has grown accustomed. She dropped out of college and has no career prospects after Hal goes to the clink and that’s the dilemma she’s left in when she arrives in San Francisco. Her “top 1%” sensibilities, as well as her extreme narcissism, make it nearly impossible for her to function without the aid of pharmaceuticals or high end vodka.
Couple that with the illumination that Hal was responsible for Ginger and her first husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay, who is fantastic in this role…wait did I just say that?) losing $200,000 they won in the lottery and one can understand the tentativeness of Jasmine’s position.
So as Jasmine navigates this new reality she has found herself in, she takes a job at a dentist’s office as a receptionist, in which she flounders at first. Just as she’s beginning to find her feet, the slimy dentist (Michael Stuhlbarg) comes on to her, causing her to quit her job. She had been studying how to use use a computer (because I guess rich-heads don’t even have to bother with using a computer) so she focuses full-time on it so she can do interior design consulting, her true passion (of course). When her friend Sharon (Sharon Finn) from her computer class invites her to a house party, she is back in her element. She meets a dashing, handsome man Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard) who works in the diplomatic corps and has political ambitions. They of course hit it off and begin a whirlwind romance. Of course, Jasmine lies about her past and what happened with Hal, so the relationship is a house of cards ready to fall at any time. In typical Allen fashion, the film comes around to its inevitable ending in a really smart manner. The final flashback sequence (even though it doesn’t come at the actual ending of the film), fills in the holes of how it came to be that Hal was arrested and why.
To say Cate Blanchett‘s performance is fantastic is the understatement of the year. To me, this performance is a younger sister of Gena Rowlands‘ Mabel Longhetti in John Cassavetes‘ A Woman Under the Influence, which also happens to be what I believe is the finest performance on film I’ve ever seen. I will be shocked if Blanchett does not earn her second Oscar for this role. She should have two already but Gwyneth Paltrow‘s smarmy ass stole it for that shit show Shakespeare in Love. It is far and away the best performance I’ve seen all year and this film is worth watching solely for it. That Sally Hawkins is almost as good is testament to her craft and Allen‘s for coaxing such great performances from his actors. The cast of characters that Allen wove around the sister relationship are wonderful and perfectly Allen-esque. Filled with humor and tinged with dark moments, Blue Jasmine is a triumph and the continuation of a fantastic career. I highly recommend this one. I see all of Woody‘s film as I’m curious to see what he comes up with next. That he is able to mine basically the same scenario over and over again (relationship dysfunction) and deliver something fresh, funny, insightful and intriguing is a testament to his abilities. Bravo!
Here’s the trailer: