Since 1966, Woody Allen has directed 43 features, amounting to almost a picture per year, an immense quantity for a one director. Given such a rapid rate of production, it comes as a surprise that with such a large body of work, Allen has not fallen into a simply mediocre repeat-as-necessary formula. Best known for his wry romance-y comedies and quirky, rambling set of on-screen portrayals, Allen no doubt does comedy best. But every once in a while, his writing can take a dramatic turn. The laughs come fewer and farther in exchange for a deeper study of human psyche and emotion, ala Match Point. Not a typical Woody Allen movie some might say, however, amidst a slew of Allen-esque comedies, these often stand as some of his most memorable work.
That all said, Blue Jasmine is not a typical Woody Allen movie of recent memory. The film lacks the outlandish faltery of last year’s To Rome with Love and the whimsical nostalgia of 2011’s gem, Midnight in Paris. His newest film, rather, is a swooning, cerebral drama detailing pain and loss, obsession and regret. Blue Jasmine updates Tennessee William’s classic stage play “A Streetcar Named Desire.” New Orleans swaps out for San Francisco and the 1950s becomes the present day with cell phones and tinted minivans. The nutty Blanche DuBois character, Jasmine, is marvelously depicted by veteran actress Cate Blanchett, who the Academy will no doubt recognize with at least a nomination. Sally Hawkins and Bobby Cannavale take up the Stella and Stanley roles respectively. And while the latter two have not received as much buzz as Miss Blanchett, they should be regarded with equal praise.
After a public mental breakdown, Jasmine heads out to San Francisco to live with her sister, hoping for a fresh start now removed from her glitzy life in New York that ended abruptly when her successful and suave husband’s (Baldwin) wealth fell to various police charges, jail, and eventual suicide. This happening also left Ginger and her ex-husband without any money too. Greetings are particularly stiff when Jasmine and Ginger first see each other. Despite having no money, Jasmine still holds her head high thinking she is too good for her sister’s blue collar life. But she experiences a rude awakening as she is forced to get a menial job as a dentist’s assistant to pay for computer classes in the hopes of studying fashion online. Jasmine receives little warmth from the rest of Ginger’s life. Ginger’s boyfriend Chili (Cannavale) was all set up to move into Sally’s apartment until Jasmine’s temporary stay hampers the plans. Her drama and clear ignorance for the rest of the world sets him off. The brute, blue-collar Chili is played wonderfully by Bobby Cannavale, echoing Brando’s character brilliantly with sporadic tantrums and delightfully sinister comments always geared towards Jasmine. We meet Jasmine after the fall, but viewers receive her back-story through an array of flashbacks comprising almost half the movie, though inserted seamlessly matching her emotions and memories and provoking no abruptness of the sort. The glimpse into her life offers a look at the fairer yet probably worse days of her life as a queen on the Upper East Side. In the present, we watch her struggle immensely to regain that life in some other form any way she can.
Appearing in nearly every frame of this movie, the film’s success undoubtedly rests on Blanchett’s shoulders. She so perfectly captures the hysterical frenzies that is Jasmine, often times battling long takes and extensive close-ups and doing so without flaw. But not to be disregarded is the supporting cast of this film. I have already given praise to the likes of Hawkins and Cannavale whom I hope the Academy also deservingly recognizes. Allen also takes a bit of a casting risk deploying the chops of two well-to-do comedians Andrew Dice Clay and Louis CK despite their limited film experiences. Both take up their jobs as if screened veterans.
Though Allen takes a step away from his recent comedic stretch, he comes back with an intelligent and superbly acted film with Blue Jasmine. We haven’t seen Woody go this serious since 2007’s Cassandra’s Dream, but Blue Jasmine is far better still offering some instances of comic relief; giggles they might just be and not altogether laughs. Even in the deadpan, Woody can still deliver and Blue Jasmine is undoubtedly one his finest pictures in recent memory.