Blue Jasmine

Directed By: Woody Allen

Starring: Alec Baldwin, Cate Blanchett, Bobby Cannavale, Louis C.K., Andrew Dice Clay, Sally Hawkins, Peter Sarsgaard, and Michael Stuhlbarg

"Anxiety, nightmares, and a nervous breakdown.  There's only so many traumas a person can take ‘til they take to the streets and start screaming."
-Jasmine (Cate Blanchett)

It's that time of the year again.  Woody Allen has another film out.  However, that shouldn't come as a shock since the beloved director has been putting out at least one movie annually for 31 years running now.  In the last several years, Allen has taken us through the streets of Rome, Paris, and Barcelona on his travel series.  This weekend, he's taking us back to the states to the streets of New York and San Francisco with his latest work Blue Jasmine.  This weekend is also the first time in a while that Allen has stepped away from lighthearted comedies and gotten a little darker and heavier on the big screen.  If the quote above doesn't make it clear enough, he's making a movie about a woman who's been through some stuff, a woman who doesn't have a dream or a love of her own anymore.

Since life with her wealthy husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) has fallen to pieces from a devastating scandal, Jasmine (Blanchett) is moving to San Francisco to live with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins).  The adopted sisters have a rocky past.  Living the high life, Jasmine has always looked down on her sister for dating losers and not doing better for herself or her two sons.  It certainly doesn't help that Hal lost all of Ginger and her ex-husband Augie's (Andrew Dice Clay) money in his financial schemes or that Jasmine's move-in is putting the brakes on Ginger's engagement to her new boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale).  Nonetheless, family is family, and Jasmine's had a nervous breakdown.  She has nowhere else to go, and Ginger will do what she must to help her sister.

Trying to turn a new leaf in her life, Jasmine gets a menial job as a receptionist for dentist Dr. Flicker (Michael Stuhlbarg).  She begins taking computer classes.  She aspires to take those newfound technical skills and her impeccable sense of fashion and become an interior decorator.  There's just one problem.  Jasmine is crazy, and that’s not going to change.  With all of her drama, it's needless to say that this woman does not have the requisite state of mind to succeed.  She's a fragile woman haunted by her past with Hal.  Things change for her though when she meets a wealthy, ambitious politician named Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard) who sweeps her off her feet.  Meanwhile, Ginger dumps Chili for Al (Louis C.K.), a lover she meets at a party with Jasmine.

There are some things that never change, and there are certain trademark elements of a Woody Allen film that never go away regardless of whether the auteur is offering a light comedy or a darkly humorous drama.  Blue Jasmine is the latter.  In this comedy-drama, Allen takes a playful look at what drove Jasmine to a mental breakdown and what's driving her toward another with all his typical artistic flourishes.  From the moment the credits start rolling, the veteran director we all know and love comes to life.  You can see it in Allen's gorgeous shots of the Golden Gate Bridge and Park Avenue.  You can hear it in his bluesy soundtrack, especially when the 1934 song "Blue Moon" hits.  You can feel it during the hilarious interactions of the quirky, down-to-earth characters he's brought to the big screen.  All in all, Blue Jasmine is Woody Allen in good form.

Allen's main character Jasmine is a real piece of work, and Cate Blanchett brings this flawed anti-heroine to life in the most colorful way possible.  In an impressive performance, Blanchett really has dual roles as both the snobby socialite ignoring all the signs of her husband's treachery and the woman who's a shell of her former self.  Naturally, her crazier side is more interesting to me, and that's what I'm going to discuss here.  Blanchett gives a virtuoso performance as this mentally unstable woman haunted by her past.  She can just stare listlessly into the air and convince you of how messed up her character truly is.  Frequently suffering from panic attacks, popping Xanax pills like they're candy, and having full-blown conversations with herself, Blanchett nails it in highlighting that Jasmine has a few screws loose.  She really is captivating in highlighting every nuance of Jasmine's eccentricities as she recovers from one nervous breakdown and hurdles toward another.  With this compelling performance, Blanchett has thrown down the gauntlet for the awards season.

Allen gives Blanchett an impressive supporting cast to back her up.  As Jasmine's slippery husband Hal, Alec Baldwin is perfect.  He really delivers this savvy character who can lie and deceive with a smile.  Baldwin is the slick embodiment of a corrupt businessman and a cheating spouse.  As Jasmine's sister Ginger, Sally Hawkins's character is far more complicated than she looks initially.  Her character may come off as a woman who values family over all else despite the myriad of issues she has with her sister.  She may even come off as the antithesis of Jasmine, but she's really the same.  She just never married up.  The second she has the opportunity to do so, her character would drop the people in her life in a heartbeat.  Hawkins subtly captures this in a very strong performance.  Finally, we have Bobby Cannavale as Chili.  He may be a little rough around the edges, but he's the only one who can really go toe-to-toe with Blanchett on screen.  I have to commend him for that.

Blue Jasmine is a film that certainly hits home with some poignant themes about wealth and class in society today.  More importantly, it’s a film about the mental unraveling of a woman before our eyes.  With strong writing and directing from the maestro himself and excellent performances from his cast, Woody Allen strikes again with another solid addition to his long, long filmography.  Blue Jasmine gets a strong 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.