Review: Blue Jasmine

FILM
BLUE JASMINE
Cert 12A | By Steve Dinneen
Three Stars

Every new Woody Allen movie – and they arrive with disquieting regularity – is greeted with the same question: is it a return to form or another of his onanistic “wilderness” projects? The general rule of thumb is that further he strays from his New York heartland, the worse the movie.

So, which is Blue Jasmine? Well, it’s decent enough– and partially New York-based – but how much of it Allen can take credit for is debatable. Cate Blanchette is most worthy of praise; her towering performance is further proof she’s one of the finest actors working today.

Blue Jasmine is essentially Allen’s typically neurotic take on A Street Car Named Desire. Blanchette plays Jasmine, the Blanche DuBois of the ensemble, a card-carrying, highfalutin member of the nouveau riche struggling to come to terms with the financial collapse and incarceration of her financier husband (Alec Baldwin). Like Allen, Jasmine is a spiritual New Yorker on a self-imposed exile, in this case to San Fransisco.

She crashes into the blue-collar life of her downtrodden sister Ginger like a gilded steamtrain, threatening to permanently derail her sibling’s engagement to her cheerful luddite of a fiancé. She’s a tremulous tyrant, a glass cannon, lashing out blindly as the paper-thin veneer of her carefully constructed world falls in shreds around her.

The intricacies of Jasmine’s downfall are told through flashbacks to her life in New York, which are usually prompted by a heady concoction of Xanax and Stolichnaya. In lesser hands, Jasmine would be a hopelessly unsympathetic, one-dimensional caricature of a fallen, spoilt rich girl. But Blanchette imbues her with real sympathy.

She’s helped out by a great supporting cast. Sally Hawkins is excellent as Ginger, the sister not blessed with Jasmine’s “good genes”, nor, indeed, her good jeans. Bobby Cannavale and Peter Sarsgaard shine in supporting roles as fiancé Chili and Jasmine’s potential love-interest respectively, although Baldwin cruises by on charisma alone.

But Blue Jasmine feels more like a collection of great performances than a single great movie, and the Street Car-lite plot is a little blunt. That said, it’s an enjoyable, engaging yarn, with, for the director, an atypically bitter twist in its tail; certainly towards the top end of the latter-day Allen scale.