Sunday, 22 September 2013

Film Review: Blue Jasmine (2013)

Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
Stars: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Peter Sarsgaard, Sally Hawkins, Bobby Cannavale and Louie C.K

Blue Jasmine is not only a brilliant return to form for Woody Allen after the disastrous From Rome With Love and several other sub-par efforts over the past decade (Scoop, Cassandra’s Dream, Whatever Works) but it is perhaps his most accomplished screenplay of multiple characters since Husbands And Wives. Certainly Midnight In Paris is a superb and magical film, but Blue Jasmine is Allen back in adult territory with several well-rounded characters and his writing is very strong once again.

Perhaps it is the distinct lack of the ‘Woody Allen character’ in Blue Jasmine which gives the film its focus and maturity; he is a writer who can absolutely write female characters and dialogue and the titular character is one of his most complex. Jasmine is blue, as the title suggests, because she is depressed and at 40-something years of age she now needs to find her place in the world after her rich husband went to jail and subsequent committed suicide, leaving her bankrupt and aimless. However, Allen creates so many layers and attributes to his lead character that she never once feels like a stereotype of depression but is genuinely a woman who is on the brink of a breakdown in every scene we see her. Like most Allen characters, Jasmine talks a lot, with all her thoughts and emotions laid out for the audience to see and hear and Allen’s ear for dialogue has rarely been more realistic than when Jasmine, and indeed the other characters, speak.

Jasmine moves from New York’s Park Avenue to one of San Francisco’s less-than-picturesque area to live with her sister, Ginger, (both adopted) whilst she gets her life back on track. The duality between Jasmine and Ginger’s lives plays out well without being clich├ęd in their differences; Ginger has her problems, too, with divorce, a new man, and an affair (this is Allen after all) all going on through the duration of the film which nicely mirrors the way Jasmine has dealt with her own issues. Ginger, too, could be a depressed sociopath but difference is she’s never had the riches her sister has been used too, so has never had to rebuild an identity like Jasmine now feels she has to. The films asks questions about what identifies us and what makes us happy; Jasmine and Ginger are two sides of those questions.

The film is not without its humorous moments and Allen fills his screenplay with amusing lines without going for full-on comedy, although some moments which some could construe as comedic are actually really quite tragic when we appreciate Jasmine is constantly on the tipping point of a full breakdown. The film strikes the perfect balance of comedic, dramatic, and tragic in a way only Allen could convey.

All of the excellent writing, of course, is for nothing if the acting talent is unable to realise it on the screen, but Cate Blanchett gives a performance so open, honest, unflinching, and utterly human that she brings Jasmine to life in a way which transcends just great acting and she becomes a real person and we truly care for the wellbeing. From the first scene Blanchett shows nuances and mannerisms (she brushes her hair and pulls at her jacket with a nervous disposition which constantly reminds us of her anxiety) which simply pop off the screen and are hallmarks of an actress who is embodying the character, not just reading lines and looking pretty. At this moment, she is unrivalled for the Best Actress in a Leading Role Oscar next year for I have seen nothing else which has come close.

The supporting cast is also excellent without a single weak link; Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin, Bobby Cannavale (so different here than his menacing role in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire) and Louie C.K are all on top form and perfect in their roles, showing once again how well Allen is at getting the very best from his casts. Moreover, Allen’s direction is different here than his usual single take, static camera movements and he moves the camera more freely than usual, more edits and angles, and doesn’t glamorise the locations the way he has done with New York, Paris, Rome, London, and Barcelona in the past. This is a character-driven piece of film making and Allen’s direction suits his screenplay perfectly.

If any criticisms are to be made it would be the terribly clumsy and circumstantial way Jasmine’s new relationship unravels by the way of bumping into her sister’s former husband in the street and the dialogue which then follows. It was the only time in the film where the ‘mechanics’ of screenwriting were present and someone of Allen’s talent shouldn’t be relying on scenes such as this.

Stop thinking for yourself verdict: Aside from this one minor flaw, Blue Jasmine is every bit as good an adult drama as Midnight In Paris was a magically piece of romanticism. This will go down as one of the director’s most important films for many years, and certainly one of his better efforts from a career already filled with outstanding films.

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