Breathtaking in ‘Blue’

film bluWoody Allen takes Cate Blanchett to new heights (and lows) in ‘Blue Jasmine’

Cate Blanchett delivers one of the year’s most memorable lines in Blue Jasmine: “Anxiety, nightmares and a nervous breakdown … there’s only so many traumas a person can withstand until they take to the streets and start screaming.”

And so it goes for the disgraced and displaced protagonist, Jasmine, in Woody Allen’s 48th film, certainly one of the writer-director’s best movies and something bound to produce yet another Oscar nod for Blanchett. As Jasmine, the fallen New York City socialite who attempts to pick up the pieces of her fractured fairy tale life by moving in with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco, Blachett is sublime, turning in one of the year’s finest performances and the best in her entire career.

This wouldn’t be the first time Allen brought out the most superlative efforts in a leading lady—not that Blanchett requires much nudging. Alllen has offered abundant splashes of narcissism and neurosis in other movie divas, most recently with Penélope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and again with Judy Davis in Husbands and Wives. But here, Blanchett so effectively captures the lost soul that is Jasmine that it’s downright haunting. (Oh, her mannerisms, her eyes, the way she moves.) To say the actress loses herself in the role is an understatement. A latter-day Blanche Dubois she is—chased back with Maggie Pollitt for good measure.

But what Allen does best this go around is create a full portrait of a life—as splintered as it is—in a bicoastal drama that boasts moments of humor and moves back and forth through time.

When we first encounter Jasmine, she’s in anguish. Having left her designer-brand life behind back east, she must totally downsize in her sister’s apartment in San Francisco—goodness, her Louis Vuitton luggage barely fits into the living room! In a series of flashbacks, we soon discover that the genesis of Jasmine’s downfall lies in the unscrupulous business practices of her wealthy husband Hal—think Bernie Madoff—wonderfully underplayed here by Alec Baldwin, who starred in Allen’s delightful To Rome With Love last year.

Oh, the things Jasmine must endure. She can’t stomach her divorced sister Ginger’s new boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale in another memorable role) or her bohemian lifestyle for that matter. And her moments of grace completely evaporate in between popping Xanax and downing another Stoli martini with a lemon twist. Her attempts to move forward, to really make something out of her life, are so drenched in delusion, she unnerves everybody around her. The happier Jasmine (seen in flashback) doesn’t quite have her designer heels firmly planted in reality either. Uncomfortable with what she notices about her husband’s actions—and frankly, the gnawing feeling that there’s something missing, in herself or in life itself— she turns the other cheek and avoids dealing with matters entirely. Until, at last, she mood swings herself—and her entire family—into complete ruin.

For a Woody Allen film (aside from, say, Match Point), the outing is more opera-esque than comedic. It’s not always easy watching Jasmine unspool so sloppily in front of you and yet, like most accidents you pass on the freeway, you can’t seem to take your eyes off of this train-wreck of a creature. The director so aptly captures the flaws and narcissistic tendencies that have the ability to wreak havoc within each of us.

Fortunately, Jasmine has so many individuals to react to. Hawkins, who so superbly infused Happy Go Lucky with giddy charm, is a breath of fresh air as Jasmine’s sister. Vulnerable, no matter what timeline we catch her, she can’t really escape sinking into Jasmine’s black hole. And then there’s Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), Ginger’s husband (and ex husband, depending on the timeline), and father to her two young boys. He’s a guy trying to get ahead but his brazen honesty has profound effects. When Peter Sarsgaard appears later in the film, playing a potential love interest for Jasmine, it stokes her nearly extinguished flame. And bless Blanchett, you can really see those wheels turning inside of Jasmine’s mind: “My gosh, I may just be rescued yet, darling!”

Few actresses can move through such turbulent emotional waters on screen with as much nuance as Blanchett. Yes, at times, her performance ever-so slightly detracts from the overall theme here, but the glimpses we get of the character at both her highest (efficient, proper, showy) and lowest (shallow, needy, desperate) afford us the opportunity to experience the whole megillah. Few movies offer such an experience.

What we’re left with is a captivating kaleidoscope that offers a deeply layered, emotionally rich and deftly played soiree—certainly not one to miss. 

Blue Jasmine ★ ★ ★ 1/2 (out of four) With Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins,  Bobby Cannavale, Andrew Dice Clay and  Louis C.K.. Written and directed by Woody Allen. A Sony Pictures Classic release. At The Nick and Del Mar Theatres. 98 minutes.

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