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September 23, 2013 | by  | in Arts Film |
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Blue Jasmine

Woody Allen’s latest venture, Blue Jasmine, has been hailed as one of his best (well of the last 20 years or so at least). I’m inclined to agree. Cate Blanchett is unsurprisingly brilliant in the role of Jasmine (née Jeanette). Allen benefits from one of the best casts he’s put together in years. Sally Hawkins plays the role of Jasmine’s working-class sister, Ginger, and Alec Baldwin plays her wealthy fraudster ex-husband (in his third Allen film). Peter Sarsgaard also does a stellar job, playing the creepy-rich-dude thing well (see An Education), and Bobby Cannavale impresses as Chili, Ginger’s blue-collar fiance.

A former New York socialite, Jasmine’s husband, Hal (Baldwin) is indicted for fraud and takes his own life in a jail cell (hung with a rope, as Jasmine so reverently points out). Turns out she had conveniently turned a blind eye to both his consistent cheating and funding of their lavish lifestyle. Jasmine is forced to live with her working-class sister, Ginger, in San Francisco, who she wanted as little as possible to do with until now. She arrives broke, yet flies first-class and fitted with Louis Vuitton bags; she’s post mental breakdown, yet still consistently chats away to herself in public.

Allen tackles class division for the first time since Match Point. Jasmine is unapologetically an utter snob. She looks down upon Ginger’s blue-collar boyfriend, Chili, not shying away from labelling him a loser multiple times (although her alcohol/prescription-drug dependency probably has something to do with her bluntness). The divide is abundantly obvious, and neither character gets away unscathed in their depiction—Ginger fights with her boyfriend in front of her children, and Jasmine has lived a shallow lifestyle, valuing luxury and social status over everything else.

At a party she attends with Ginger, Jasmine meets a wealthy diplomat, Dwight (Sarsgaard). Dwight is in need of a wife, perfect for the photo opportunities that will go along with his burgeoning career as a politician. And Ginger meets Al (Louis C.K.), the non-loser love interest, playing his typically awkward self. Unfortunately, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, for either party. Jasmine is still recovering from a nervous breakdown and living in total denial.

The reasons for Jasmine’s mental demise become gradually clearer throughout the film, in a series of flashbacks cutting between present-day San Francisco and her previous lifestyle with Hal in Upper East Side New York. The rug was pulled out beneath her in a major way—the lavish apartment on Fifth Avenue, homes in the Hamptons, and many a luxury vacation have all taken by the government. Jasmine is left with practically nothing of her own. She never did finish her degree. Instead, she was swept off her feet to the tune of ‘Blue Moon’. Hal gave her everything money could buy, as well as entry to the New York social set. Now she’s living in San Francisco; self-medicating with vodka and pills. Finding it hard to accept the cold hard truth that she’ll be starting from the bottom to get back to the top. The meltdown was definitely warranted.

At first, there’s a certain resentment toward Jasmine, with her upper-class tone and obvious disdain toward anyone lower than her on the social ladder. The further the film delves into the causes of her downward mental spiral, the more sympathy we have.

Cultural critic Peter Biskind described the film as “the first Woody Allen film in a while that doesn’t feel like a promising draft that might have benefited from another run through the typewriter.” I certainly wouldn’t put Blue Jasmine on the top of my Woody Allen list, or even in the top ten. It will, however, undeniably feature in all the lists of the best films of 2013, and so it should.

There is a significant lack of Allen’s classic deadpan Jewish humour, but he makes up for it with Jasmine’s neurosis. The context is a little more grim than usual, yet that’s the way it should be. It’s among his most touching works, a film to admire. Entertaining, if a little bleak, the classic Allen humour is still abundant. It’s both hilarious and horrific. We’re able to celebrate the hilarity with some tragedy.

4 stars

5 for Cate Blanchett’s performance

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