Blue Jasmine (2013)

Blue JasmineStarring: Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin, Bobby Cannavale, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg, Andrew Dice Clay, Alden Ehrenreich, Louis C.K.

Directed by: Woody Allen

PG-13. 98 mins

A sharp comedy-drama that touches on issues of class, gender and corporate crime all in Woody Allen’s trademark style of focusing more on character rather than story. Deeply troubled and in denial, Jasmine French (Cate Blanchett) used to have it all as a New York socialite, but must now return to her estranged sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), in San Francisco after her swindling husband (Alec Baldwin) winds up in jail. The film jumps back and forth between Jasmine’s underwhelming present and her privileged past where the choice to ignore grim reality and harsh truths are making it difficult to salvage a present. Unfortunately, Jasmine’s narcissism and difficult personality begin to overwhelm both her life and everyone that surrounds her.

Operating under the fish-out-of-water premise, the film isn’t exactly what I would call funny, but perhaps  that’s because – like most of Allen’s work – it often feels disjointed in tone. Blue Jasmine finds the almost 80 year-old filmmaker – who was just honoured with the Cecil B. DeMille award – in assuredly good form and certainly his last few films have been quite well received (Match Point, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Midnight in Paris). In the end, my dislike for this film is probably motivated by the same idea, which is that Allen is someone who you love or hate. While I always enjoy aspects of his films and can admire his skill in terms of pulling out some great performances from his cast, more often than not, I wind up feeling pretty indifferent about the whole thing and the curiously dull Blue Jasmine is no exception.

As always, Allen creates a clever intersection of lives and anxieties, all about to explode in the presence of Jasmine’s increasing psychoses. With a drink in one hand a Xanax in the other, Cate Blanchett embodies the off-putting, yet entirely riveting Jasmine. The problem is, Allen observes Jasmine without getting to her core; Allen’s complete lack of interest in exploring any further than the surface of his characters is something I’ve always found frustrating and one that may explain how a person can write an entire catalogue of films in a lifetime. Perhaps I’m missing the point point, especially given Jasmine’s character, but it doesn’t exactly make for affecting cinema. It feels so intimate, thanks to Blanchett’s performance, but it also feels entirely disinterested as if we are watching Jasmine flail about in some sort of circus act. None of these characters feel truly human, except for Andrew Dice Clay’s brief, but endearing turn as Ginger’s hardworking ex-husband.

Despite some fabulous performances, there is a sense of hollowness here that is only worsened by the subject matter. Without the occasional conflict between Ginger’s boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale) and Jasmine, there wouldn’t be much of a forward thrust to the story and there is a lingering sense of something missing throughout the film. Of course, Allen has assembled a brilliant cast but as a whole, Blue Jasmine lacks soul – * * 

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