“Anxiety, nightmares and a nervous breakdown; there’s only so many traumas a person can withstand before they take to the street and start screaming.” Awards season is declared officially open as Cate Blanchett becomes an early frontrunner for best actress with this
A former New York socialite whose life has imploded in the wake of her husband’s imprisonment (à la Bernie Madoff), Jasmine has been forced to park her Louis Vuitton luggage in the incongruous surroundings of her adoptive sister’s San Francisco apartment, with corrosive results. Attempting to “move on” and make a new start (she is a past master of reinvention), Jasmine is finally out of her depth as she careers between ill-fitting employment, ill-judged social climbing and abysmal interpersonal relations. Meanwhile, writer-director Woody Allen darts back and forth between past and present, interlacing scenes of extravagant privilege with the dawning realities of a midlife meltdown beyond the protective bubble of the Upper East Side.
From the opening moments, in which she is seen compulsively unburdening herself in an arrivals terminal, to later scenes of still talkative park-bench isolation, Jasmine’s increasingly desperate presence (vocal, physical, emotional) barely lets up. Constantly reaching for a drink, her mouth set in a cracked smile, eyes darting with cornered panic, Jasmine fills a room just as she fills the screen. She’s an exhausting character to be with, to watch and, presumably, to play.
But Blanchett takes on the challenge like a peak-fitness runner facing a marathon, ploughing her way through 26 miles of emotional road pounding, with all the ups and downs, strains and tears, stomach turns and heartburns that that entails, a feat that occasionally leaves her (and us) gasping for breath.
Allen, too, is in fighting fit form, the pace of his output remaining fast enough to put clunkers such as Cassandra’s Dream way behind him as he once again hits his stride. After the runaway success of Midnight in Paris (which took $155m worldwide – an unprecedented figure for Allen), Blue Jasmine reconfirms that his greatest triumphs may yet lie ahead. Rather than a return to the “early funny ones”, about which Allen has been making bittersweet jokes since Stardust Memories, this owes more to the “later serious ones”, such as Crimes and Misdemeanors, Husbands and Wives and, to some extent, Interiors.
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