Woody Allen's films run the gambit from the foolishly funny "Bananas" to the severely serious "Interiors." In his new film, "Blue Jasmine," the iconic director/writer treads deep waters in an examination of a woman's gradual break with reality.
Cate Blanchett plays Jasmine, a woman whose extravagant lifestyle is shattered when her conniving husband, Hal (the perfect Alec Baldwin) gets caught in a Bernie Madoff-like scheme. She's left penniless and a widow after Hal hangs himself. With nowhere to turn, she moves from New York to San Francisco and into her sister, Ginger's (sweet Sally Hawkins) modest apartment. They've never been close. Ginger is happy-go-lucky and Jasmine's a snob.
Seems Jasmine had a breakdown prior to the move and was treated with "Edison's medicine" aka electric shock therapy. Now she self medicates with Stoli and Xanax, barely able to face the perceived degradation thrust upon her existence. Lowering the bar, Jasmine takes a computer class while working for a lecherous dentist. Neither proves therapeutic. Instead, she becomes more psychotic.
Jasmine's one chance at breaking away from reality comes in the form of a charming diplomat, Dwight (dashing Peter Sarsgaard), who's enamored with her stylish demeanor. She sabotages the relationship with her incessant lies. Eventually, she's reduced to talking to herself in public as her descent into madness spirals downward.
The casting in Allen's films has always been impeccable, and "Blue Jasmine" is no exception. In fact, it's exceptional. The "have nots" in Jasmine's new circle of acquaintances give some of the most unlikely and brilliant performances. Andrew Dice Clay is amazing as Ginger's ex-husband whose observations in life are spot-on. And Bobby Cannavale as Ginger's sweet, loud-mouthed mechanic boyfriend gets real close to a version of Tennessee Williams' Stanley Kowalski in "A Streetcar Named Desire." It's as though Allen is paying homage to Williams throughout this incredibly insightful piece of filmmaking.
But, it's the pure genius of Blanchett's performance as a woman becoming undone that will shake audiences to their core. She can navigate from pretentious to pathetic in the blink of an eye. The complexity she brings to Jasmine's character belies some of the perceptions we have about her naivete. Was she really in the dark about Hal's business activities? Or is she an insidious backstabber? Whatever, Blanchett is simply electrifying in this role.
"Blue Jasmine" is Allen's most powerful film in decades. Seeing life from both sides with such an empathic perspective has always been his forte. But watching Blanchett deliver the goods goes beyond all expectations.
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