After recent excursions to some of Europe’s most iconic cities, prolific filmmaker Woody Allen returns to the United States with his latest film. Blue Jasmine (2013), the 43rd feature directed by Allen, is a loose and contemporary retelling of Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer Prize winning play A Streetcar Named Desire (1947).
The movie centres on the titular Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) who is seeking refuge following a recent financial scandal involving her ex-husband Hal (Alec Baldwin). In the opening scene Jasmine, on a flight way to San Francisco, talks constantly about her life, much to the obvious discomfort of the unfortunate passenger next to her. After the unwilling travel companion has managed to ditch her at the airport, Jasmine visits and stays with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Hard-working and down to earth Ginger is the complete opposite of Jasmine, and soon occupies her own sub-plot involving her boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale), a mechanic whose dislike for Jasmine is emphatically reciprocated. Whilst Ginger’s relationship goes up and down like a rollercoaster, Jasmine, lacking direction and skills, takes a job as a dental receptionist, a “menial” job which she thinks is beneath her.
Failure in her new found employment leads Jasmine to a party where she meets Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard), a successful diplomat who could be her ticket out of San Francisco. However, given that she can’t come clean about her work, her personal situation, or her ex, will this possible romance last?
In a move against type for the veteran director, the film takes place in two distinct locations. Viewers are introduced to Jasmine in San Francisco in the present, but due to her mental fragility and delicate nature, the audience are often transported back in time to her earlier life in New York whenever she breaks down. These flashbacks are well done; they have a logical place in the story and only relevant remembrances are ever included. The frequency of these episodes also varies; occurring every other scene during the first half of the movie, as the story progresses, these episodes appear to fade away as Jasmine tries to forget the past. Even more delightfully, the first and last flashbacks revolve around the notes of the song, Blue Moon.
The only problem with Blue Jasmine is the main character. Jasmine is an egocentric, rambling and dishonest, border-line alcoholic, who is still in the middle of a previous mental breakdown. By necessity Jasmine has be unlikable; that is the whole point of the story. But because she is so detestable and completely without any redeeming qualities, whenever Jasmine is left to carry a scene on her own, it falls flat. This may be as a result of the script or due to Blanchett’s performance, but one can only wonder how things might have been if the film had been made twenty-five years ago with Allen’s cinematic muse Diane Keaton playing the title role.
To highlight Jasmine’s apparent coldness, her ex-husband Hal, an adulterer who lies, manipulates, and commits tax evasion is charming and warm. Hawkins and recent Emmy award winner Cannavale are also noteworthy in supporting roles, highlighting the fact that Blue Jasmine is nothing if not a character driven piece. Yet without a likeable lead other characters are left to hold the film together.
The film’s style is trademark Allen. Sweeping shots of the city and the scenery resonate throughout, as does a jazz-heavy soundtrack, and Jasmine, like so many of Allen’s characters, longs for – and lingers over – the past, and so may the audience. Blue Jasmine is one of Allen’s best in the past fifteen years, but despite this, it cannot match the filmmaker’s heyday of the 1970s and 80s.