Woody Allen just keeps cranking out fabulous films. And, his incredible gift for casting them has never been better. "Blue Jasmine" boasts one of the best lineups of all, with actors who are not as widely known as Alec Baldwin and Cate Blanchett, but are truly as talented.
Jasmine (Blanchett) has lost everything --- her wealthy, powerful husband Hal (Baldwin), her multiple homes, her jewelry, her position in Manhattan society --- everything that she holds dear. In an effort to re-establish herself, because, truthfully, she has no choice, she jets off to San Francisco (first class, no less), where her also-adopted "sister", Ginger (Sally Hawkins) is raising her two young sons.
Ginger is a cashier at a local grocery store and her apartment is barely big enough for her and her children. But she has agreed to give poor Jasmine (Jeanette, when they were growing up) a place to stay. Of course, Jasmine is appalled by the living arrangements, but she is in no position to be picky. She is also further appalled by Ginger's most recent paramour, Chili (Bobby Cannavale), an auto mechanic, whom Jasmine declares a "loser", just like Ginger's ex-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay).
Told in present day San Francisco, with flashbacks to Jasmine's past in New York, "Blue Jasmine" paints a very telling picture of a woman from a poor beginning lured into great wealth by an unethical, charming scoundrel. We learn as we go along what Jasmine knew and didn't know. It's a tale that has been played out in the media many times before, but, as usual, Allen has his own very intriguing way of telling his story.
As I have written repeatedly, the script is, and always should be, the main focus. Allen's dialogue is superb. There are no throw-away lines --- or even words. The conversations are masterfully depicted and the situations are real. That said, in this case, it is truly the actors who bring this material to life.
Blanchett is sublime. Her performance is multi-layered and must have been terribly exhausting. Her ability to go from lucid one minute to completely off-the-tracks the next is marvelous. She should be the front runner going into the Oscar season.
Terrific as she is, Ms. Blanchett is only a part of this amazing cast. Baldwin is flat-out perfect. This is his third time working with Allen, and Woody could not have found any actor better to portray the scheming lothario, Hal, than Baldwin.
But, as I mentioned, it is the lesser knowns in the supporting cast that complete this film. Cannavale is one of the best actors around. I have loved him since "Sex and the City", but especially after "The Station Agent", with Peter Dinklage and Patricia Clarkson. (If you missed this little gem --- find it and watch it!) Cannavale's performance as Chili is cringe/laugh inducing --- he really loves Ginger, but he can't figure out how to prove it to her.
Hawkins is another great performer, Allen's choice of her as Ginger is brilliant. She so wants to be loved and be in love. Ginger starts to believe Jasmine's assessment of Chili, and takes a chance on a new guy, Al (Louis C.K.), who immediately senses her vulnerability. Hawkins has Ginger pegged, and her portrayal is flawless.
My only problem with "Blue Jasmine" comes form Peter Sarsgaard's character, Dwight. This guy is supposedly a foreign diplomat, interested in politics, and yet, upon meeting Jasmine, he accepts her at face value. One would think that someone in his position would be more cautious and perhaps do a background check --- but, he does not. A minor flaw, but one, nonetheless.
I can't imagine how much longer Woody Allen can keep this up. But, selfishly, I hope forever. "Blue Jasmine" is a real dramatic treat, one that is destined to become a classic.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!
In Woody Allen's latest film, "Blue Jasmine", Cate Blanchett finally has a career role that embodies her considerable talents. Woody writes and directs, but does not appear in his own movie. Instead, he has imbued Blanchett's character, Jasmine, with all the neurotic, distraught and unstable tendencies that Allen usually reserves for himself. It's a remarkable turn that should catapult Blanchett to her fifth Oscar nomination. She won Best Supporting for "The Aviator" (2004) opposite Leonardo DiCaprio.
Jasmine is a 40-something New York socialite who relies on anti-depressants to get through the day. Her husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin) is a womanizing, Bernie Madoff type, having cost friends and relatives large amounts of money, if not their life savings, in failed real estate deals. Her sister, Ginger (a fabulous performance from Sally Hawkins) lives in San Francisco, divorced from Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) and currently dating Chili (Bobby Cannavale).
So Jasmine moves in with Ginger, takes up on her sister's suggestion that she pursue interior design as a new career, and eventually meets a political hopeful in Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard). But Jasmine's self-esteem is at a low point, and she resorts to fabricating stories about herself to get where she wants to be, namely to regain the elite status she enjoyed with Hal in their former lives.
"Blue Jasmine" is not a comedy by any stretch. It is a dialogue driven drama that features outstanding performances by the entire cast. In their supporting roles, Dice Clay and Cannavale, in particular, are terrific. Michael Stuhlbarg is effective as Dr. Flicker, the dentist who hires Jasmine to be his receptionist, then comes on to her with unwelcome advances. Louis C. K. plays Al, a sound engineer whom Ginger meets, and beds, thinking he is a step up from Chili. As for Sarsgaard, his character is a bit smarmy, a little too smooth in his rapid affection towards Jasmine --- another exemplary job of acting that utilizes Allen's script to perfection.
Clearly, however, this movie belongs to Blanchett and Hawkins. Yes, Blanchett is clearly deserving of an Oscar nod for lead actress. But Hawkins should be equally rewarded with a Best Supporting nomination.
The movie is not for everyone, particularly for audiences with limited tolerance for dysfunctional relationships. But Woody Allen has made a career out of every day people in turmoil. "Blue Jasmine" is a mature film for sophisticated moviegoers.
Opinion: See It Now!