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Film Review: Is Woody Allen Back to His Best With Blue Jasmine?

To say Woody Allen’s film history has been somewhat chequered over the past decade or so is something of an understatement.  Cassandra’s Dream and Scoop were far from the usual comedic gems and spiky offerings that marked out the humorous brilliance of Annie Hall, Manhattan, or Hannah and Her Sisters. Does Blue Jasmine definitively mark a return to his best?

Article by Jamie C. 

Recently, Woody Allen’s made something of a comeback with a string of finely crafted, funny and perceptive films.  Vicky Cristina Barcelona was fiery and sexy, Whatever Works was a masterclass in perfectly timed, and hilarious, misanthropy (played out by the comedic genius of Larry David), Midnight In Paris was a wistfully nostalgic and engagingly literate cinematic soufflé, and From Rome With Love as a clever portmanteau piece and ode to one of the director’s favourite cities.

In fact, the phrase ‘return to form’ has probably never been so sporadically adopted for any other modern director.

What nobody could have expected was that he’d go on to make Blue Jasmine – a truly remarkable, sucker punch of a movie. Even at 77, Allen still has the power to tell a magnificent story, packed with his usual biting satire, humorous flourishes, and pithy observations on the state of the world and the human condition.

Kicking off with a scene in which our protagonist Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) is sat on a plane recounting her life story to a passenger – whose chance of getting a word in is non-existent. The story recounts how her life as a New York socialite came crumbling down after the swindling, Bernie Madoff-style, financial machinations of her crook ex-husband were exposed.

Image from Official Trailer

Claiming to be flat broke, she moves in with her adopted, single-mother sister Ginger(Sally Hawkins) in a – as Jasmine calls it – ‘homey’ apartment. It’s not long before Jasmine realises she’s way out of her depth with her sister’s working class lifestyle, choice of men, and less pampered, Louis Vuitton-free existence.

Turning to an endless supply of Xanex and Stoli Martinis to numb herself from the inevitable reality of her lifestyle comedown, what we witness is the ultimate deterioration, and fall from grace, of a character who at one time had it all so good.

Blanchett gives a remarkable, powerhouse performance, brilliantly crafting a character on the edge, on a terminal course of inevitable self-destruction, in a slow physical and psychological meltdown that is, at times, painful to watch but utterly transfixing.

We feel her anguish and pain when she tries to (for the first time) earn some money for herself by taking on a job as a dental receptionist – a fish out of water that’s embarrassing and pathetic, and which leads to the unfortunate and forced-upon, sleazy advances of her employer.

Some have said its Woody Allen’s own version of A Streetcar Named Desire, and there’s a certain element of truth there.  The storyline and character arcs are certainly close to Tennessee Williams’ classic, but Allen gives it a contemporary spin that addresses the all-too pertinent themes of greed, selfishness, denial, and the immediately recognisable notions of the ‘one per cent’ who have it so good at the expense, and frequent disregard, of everyone else.

Allen has previously crafted some superlative roles for excellent actresses to firmly sink their acting teeth into – Diane Keaton, Mia Farrow and Dianne Wiest have all won Oscars playing his characters.

Image by movie studio

And the rumour-mill suggests that Blanchett will also be the recipient of a golden statuette come Oscar time. And rightly so – there hasn’t been a performance that even comes close to the grandstanding tour-de-force Blanchette gives us here.

She’s a character full of contradictions, neuroses, uncertainties and regrets, existing only barely in her own dark and de-railed world, living occasionally within the fantasies of her own mind and slipping into unhinged conversations with herself.

The supporting characters are also vividly fleshed out and excellently played, occasionally resorting to Allen’s sometimes misjudged slip into stereotype, but not enough to jeopardise the overall drama and potency of this pertinent morality tale.

In fact, this is a new side to Woody Allen, taking on weighty themes, moral conundrums and social questions he’s raised in earlier movies, but never with the consummate skill or gut-wrenching, emotional impact on display here.

Nuanced, well observed, and an appropriate cautionary tale for the modern age, it might not be one of Allen’s ‘earlier, funnier ones’ (though there are a few comically mordant one-liners), but it is a return to form and proof that to write him off would be a big, big mistake.

5/5

Verdict: Woody’s back on masterful form with a modern morality tale that’s astute, perceptive and moving, with a heart-wrenching performance by Blanchett, and a final, haunting scene that will stay with you for a long time after.  

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