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Blue Jasmine Review: Woody Allen's Best Since Match Point

By Amanda Mae Meyncke | Film Reviews | August 23, 2013 | Comments ()


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If you’ve heard of this film, you’ve likely already formed an opinion about whether or not you’re going to see it, but if you’re even a little bit unsure — Cate Blanchett turns in one of the performances of a lifetime, something so solid and remarkable that you lose yourself in watching her. Blue Jasmine is Woody Allen’s best film in years, and certainly his best film since Match Point. And possibly Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which I forget about all the time. As long as you like your Allen coherent and interesting, you’re going to do fine with this one. A true delight for the filmgoer exhausted by Summer’s offerings.

Told half in flashbacks to a better life, and half in the dowdy present, Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) is a woman who was once very wealthy, but whose husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin) lost their money in fraudulent schemes. After losing it all, Jasmine finds herself forced out of her glamorous New York City lifestyle and into the lower middle class arms of her adopted sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins) living in San Francisco. Jasmine and Ginger are worlds apart in every respect, but Ginger does her best to try and help her sister acclimate to her new circumstances, but Jasmine is doing her best, which isn’t very much at all. Jasmine is kind of a nightmare overall, the sort of woman who has spent a life hosting dinner parties and attending charity functions, but who simply isn’t built for the kind of life where one works for a living. She detests everything about Ginger’s contented existence, from her rowdy boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale) to her small apartment and job as a grocery clerk. To top it all off, Jasmine is losing it, slowly but surely drinking, lying and medicating her way into a muddled half-life, caught between the past and the present, hysterical and pitiable.

Cate Blanchett’s performance is stunning, losing herself entirely in the role of the beautiful, uptight Jasmine. Where it might be easy to play her as all naiveté and hapless victim of circumstance, Blanchett has taken the Jasmine prism and shone a light through every varied nuance of her person. No one can be self-absorbed all the time, certainly, but Jasmine is in crisis, in the midst of a tragedy and can’t quite think clearly. If there’s anything Woody Allen likes, it’s a slightly ridiculous, beautiful woman who is fairly certain she can make her own way in the world (whether or not that’s true) and Blanchett delivers. Alec Baldwin is delightful as the big spender and big fraud who remains the focus of Jasmine’s thoughts. Almost as lovely is Sally Hawkins, playing the long-suffering, much maligned and put-upon Ginger with all her own quirks and troubles laid on.

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The details are what work best here amidst slightly theatrical staging, and the flashback plot device which keeps things from becoming too monotonous in the present. There’s plenty of people talking over one another, around one another, and especially enjoyable are the interactions between the two sisters. Ginger admires Jasmine, and still seeks her approval, although she has yet to learn the lesson of the younger sister, which is that nothing will ever be quite good enough. Where Jasmine is all gilt edges and Hampton’s poolside lunches, Ginger has seen the harder side of life and has fewer delusions about what awaits her. Jasmine’s innate demands for special treatment comes as naturally to her as talking, in fact she never even realizes the majority of ways in which she inconveniences others. Ginger is used to settling, and can accept the limitations of the world, but for Jasmine, the world isn’t allowed to disappoint her because there simply must be something someone can do.

While the film is by no means a perfect movie, it is quite good, actually very funny at times, and, as I said, Allen’s best film in years. Still, one wonders what the takeaway is. Woody Allen seems to be obsessively meditating on the ability of other people to disappoint us, and it’s a bit hard to find someone to root for in this quirky drama. While it’s a lot of fun to watch Jasmine flop about as a fish out of water, it’s difficult to feel bad for the extremely wealthy brought low. (Still, against my better judgement, Blanchett manages to make me feel for her, bringing the realism of a 40something housewife with no discernible skills into sharp focus.) Allen’s careful decision to alter the kilter of his standard rich, white New York City dweller may mean that he too is tired of the comfort and safety of wealth.

It is only when we are left without our considerable resources that we begin to understand what we’ve been given, but Jasmine can’t seem to learn from her experiences, and perhaps that is the message. Things never change, people never change and though we may move thousands of miles away from our former lives, we can never outrun the real problem in any given situation: ourselves.

In the name of journalistic integrity, I should mention that my friend Ali Fedotowsky has a role in the movie. It’s not a very big role but I was very happy for her none the less. No, it didn’t bias me one way or another.

Amanda Meyncke has an ice cream blog where she talks about ice cream, she is on Twitter too and writes other places on the Internet.




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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • e jerry powell

    Well...

    Match Point was 2005, and Woody Allen's feature directorial career goes back to 1966.

    Talk about damning with faint praise.

  • Robert

    My big issue with Blue Jasmine was how mean-spirited it was. There's nothing wrong with the approach. I just think Allen is a bit too cruel toward Jasmine. There were a few too many "laugh at the crazy woman" moments that were made worse by finding out how she got to that point.

    I still recommend seeing it. It's a strong film with a wonderful leading performance that is, perhaps, too dark and off-putting to actually win an Oscar in a few month's time.

  • Fredo

    This feels like "A Streetcar Named Desire" told from Blanche DuBois' POV.

  • Bobby Cannavale? Say no more. That dude's a gem.

  • AudioSuede

    Wait, have we all already forgotten Midnight in Paris? Did I not get the memo about collectively forgetting how good that movie is?

  • Robert

    Midnight in Paris is dismissed as an experiment by Allen purists and I don't know why. It's a perfect companion piece to Blue Jasmine. Both leads aren't just obsessed with the past, they're trapped in it because of their obsessions.

  • k op

    Midnight in Paris was limp, nostalgic, dreck. Owen Wilson was horribly miscast as well.

  • ,

    What I was thinking. Upvoted.

  • k op

    Since Match Point was awful, IMHO, I never know why everyone keeps referring to it as a benchmark of some sort.

    Vicky Christina Barcelona only survived as a film because Penelope Cruz seized the moment and made it her own. Her character wasn't even supposed to be in the movie. Woody was very lucky that Penelope demanded a role. Rebecca Hall was also excellent.

    Allen's strength has always been his portraits of women. When he employs actresses who can take advantage of the wide scope Allen offers, his films can sing and bounce. If he hires weak or clueless actresses, or focuses on male characters, his films dissolve into limp recitations of Woody-style stuttering dialogue which are embarrassing to watch.

    I'm curious to see Blanchett and Baldwin, excellent actors, together. That will make the film interesting, though it sounds like Woody has copped out on any sort of plot development.

  • $27019454

    Definitely with you on the Blanchett and Baldwin. When he is good he is very very good. When she is good...well, she's always good. Pair this with Allen's gift for dialogue (when it is good it is very very good) and I'm all over this.

    I think the only nut that should be in ice cream is almonds. Roasted, very very roasty dark roasty roasted almonds. MY GOD.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    ICE CREAM BLOG?!

    [back 15 minutes later]

    So AMM really likes the salted caramel, eh?

    I'm still trying to decide if I'll just appreciate this film, or actually *enjoy* it. Either way unless a friend suggests it I probably won't see it until it's on HBO or something.

  • crispin

    I'd like to call for a full stop when it comes to saying "Woody Allen's best film in years". It implies that everything else he's done during the time since "Match Point" has been crap.

  • Yocean

    How do one get through reviewing this film without ever mentioning the plot similarity to a famous Tenessee Williams play, the film version of which were directed by Billy Wilder and starring Vivien Leigh and Marlon "STELLAAAAAAAAAAA" Brando, I would never know.

  • Maya

    Wasn't the film version of Streetcar directed by Elia Kazan?

    Also, there is another connection there because Cate Blanchett played Blanche Dubois on stage a few years ago and apparently she was fucking brilliant and why didn't I go to New York and see it??

    Anyway, I wonder if Woody saw that production and decided to cast Blanchett in his own version of Streetcar.

  • BWeaves

    There is no plot. Rich woman's husband loses all their money and now poor woman must now slum it with adopted sister. That's basically it.

    The problem I have with all Woody Allen movies is that I recognize the jokes but they don't make me laugh.

  • idiosynchronic

    I can appreciate them, and thrive in a semester-long course in film cinema history using Allen as the primary viewing material. But don't even think I'm going to be seeking Woody out for some entertainments.

  • Bert_McGurt

    "Amanda Meyncke has an ice cream blog where she talks about ice cream..."

    Aaaaaand bookmarked. I should have started one a long time ago, but by now everyone would have been sick of me bitching about goddamn walnuts in my maple ice cream. Pralines would be perfectly fine. Almonds - no problem. Pistachios - absolutely. Why's it have to be walnuts?

    Wait, you say there's a movie review here as well?

  • space_oddity

    Totally with you on the walnuts in ice cream. Is their ubiquitous usage do to their cheapness? I gotta figure that's it. Do. Not. Like.

    Oh, also looking forward to the movie.

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