tue 28/01/2020

Blue Jasmine | reviews, news & interviews

Blue Jasmine

Blue Jasmine

Not like Woody Allen's early funny ones, but one of his later best

Never sharper: Cate Blanchett in 'Blue Jasmine'

An update on Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcare Named Desire, it isn’t essential to have seen that work on stage to enjoy this pithy homage from Woody Allen. However, revisiting the iconic 1951 film version starring Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh and Kim Hunter could very well make Blue Jasmine even funnier. This is because Allen treats the audience as equals to the tragic in-joke of familial impact and the damage left in its wake.

The pivot is a beautiful woman’s perpetually occurring emotional meltdown. Former wealthy Manhattan socialite Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) is the Blanche character, a tall, blonde, Hermès bag-carrying emotional steamroller who flattens everything of which she doesn’t approve and who only submits to lower the eschelon when must needs. Showing up at her estranged adopted sister Ginger’s cramped San Francisco apartment, Jasmine criticises everything she sees – from her sister’s fat children, to her loud boyfriend. Ginger (Sally Hawkins, with a respectable American accent) may be impressionable but she’s no pushover. Having had Jasmine ruin her previous marriage by bankrupting her and her then-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay, pictured below with Hawkins) with a bad property deal, Ginger is ready to forgive if not forget. Her current beau Chili (Bobby Cannavale) is the working-class Cassandra, warning Ginger of the damaging ideas of her sister.

In typical Allen style, Woody keeps the story tight and the pace brisk. Questionable decisions are made and we grit our teeth for both Jasmine and Ginger. While we’re not surprised at the fallout, we are surprised at the final result: Allen may have pitched this tale with a predictable arc but he uses both the narrative and the actors like surgical tools to show us something familiar and tragically funny. Cate Blanchett has never been sharper, both as a solo performer and in ensemble. Her skill at being awkward, crazy and credible allows her to reveal Jasmine’s painful past with surgical precision. This is a film that doesn’t mince words or waste time, much as Jasmine relies on the kindness of men with money.

Although Blanchett steals the show, supporting performances are equally indelible – and it must be said this is one of Woody’s best-cast works of his entire filmography. Peter Sarsgaard fills the shoes of the too perfect East Coast diplomat and political aspirant. Hal, Jasmine’s wealthy ex-husband, gives Alec Baldwin a character he can fully inhabit, while comedians Dice Clay and Louis C.K. get to show their incredible skill with drama – after all, comedy is harder.

A story of the 1 percent vs the 99 percent in the same family, even if sans DNA (both sisters were adopted), Blue Jasmine is a heartbreakingly funny take on aspirations gone wrong at a level where it shouldn’t happen but does. It also illustrates the moral of following your own advice – and in that way, leaves us leaving the cinema with a good taste in our mouths if a fissure in our hearts. Ultimately, Blue Jasmine is not Woody Allen at his early funniest, but it is Woody Allen at his later best.

Overleaf: watch the trailer to Blue Jasmine


This is one of Woody’s best-cast works of his entire filmography


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article


Every decade or so I end up, against the better judgement of past experience, going to see a Woody Allen film to remind myself that I don't like Woody Allen films. This was that time. He doesn't make films; he makes 'talkies'. Resolutely uncinematic, this was the first time I can remember wanting and trying to fall asleep in the cinema. Were it not for those in the seats to either side, I would not have remained to the bitter, tedious end. Yes, Blanchette looks exquisite, and plays the material adequately, but the woefully stereotyped 'working-class' characters veer from laughable to insulting, and end up merely tiresome. Allen's infatuation with the doings and failings of the upper crust, and his constant recycling of character-type and over-familiar scenarios has reached its nadir.

What the heck is a "talkie"? Good movie. I liked it. Sad though.

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters