Rebuilding – ★★★★½
How can you not admire Woody Allen? The 77-year-old is basically a film-making machine, releasing a new feature every year since the late 1970’s. In the last decade we’ve had a few that have swung closer to misses than hits (To Rome With Love, Scoop and Cassandra’s Dream come to mind), but for the most part he’s been enjoying a real Indian summer, producing some of the most critically and commercially successful films of his career (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Midnight in Paris and Match Point).
With Blue Jasmine, Allen takes on a story that, at the outset, will be familiar to those of you who have read or seen a theatrical production of Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire”. Cate Blanchett plays Jasmine, a well-to-do Manhattanite who has fallen on hard times after her husband (Alec Baldwin’s Hal) committed suicide in prison while serving time for tax evasion. Jasmine loses everything and is on the verge of breakdown, knowing the only place she can go is San Francisco where she can stay with her estranged sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). They haven’t really talked since Ginger and her boyfriend Augie lost $200,000 in lottery winnings to Hal’s poor financial management. In San Francisco Jasmine is dropped into a world of computer training courses, grubby (but cosy) apartments and men who she feels are up to no good and beneath her.
Allen’s screenplay is brilliant at juxtaposing Jasmine’s current situation with her previous life as trophy wife to a cheat (in marital and financial terms). It does so by giving close to equal screen-time to two separate timelines, the present day commencing with Jasmine’s flight to the west coast and the flashback narrative running from a New York dinner party with Hal, before the irregularities in his finances and fidelity started to become apparent. It’s a simple trick but it works brilliantly and means we’re never allowed to get bored with things. If you do there’s enough here to do with sibling rivalry, class warfare, economic crashes and mental health to keep your brain ticking over.
Marketing and early reviews for Blue Jasmine all centred on the performance of Cate Blanchett and she lives up to expectations with echoes of Joan Crawford or Bette Davis’ collapse in Sunset Boulevard. She has always felt like a timeless actress and seeing her in contemporary work has always jarred as I’ve felt she’s been at her best in things like The Aviator, Benjamin Button and the ethereal elf Galadriel in the Lord of the Rings series. Blue Jasmine could very easily take place in the 1950s or 60s. The larger than life Jasmine is a dream role for an actress but thankfully it’s not all scenery chewing as the Park Avenue fish out of water, as she invokes empathy and smiles in equal measure.
The cast of supporting actors is something to behold and is further proof of Allen’s ability to round up whoever he wants for his films. Stand-up comedians Louis C.K. and Andrew Dice Clay more than hold their own alongside talented thespians like Hawkins, Cannavale and Peter Sarsgaard. Louis C.K. more or less plays the same character as in his sitcom “Louie” and you hope that teased collaboration with Allen can happen sooner rather than later.
You know from his distinctive opening credits (white “Windsor” font on plain black background) right through to the brilliantly bleak and ambiguous ending that you are watching one of Woody Allen’s films. There’s a comfort in seeing his writing on screen backed as always by a score which suits the mood perfectly. His finished work can sometimes feel thrown together and under-rehearsed with people often saying he places more focus on his scripts than his direction but it’s really hard to be too critical here, one or two clichéd characters (the dentist for example) and a terribly CGIed airplane in the opening scene aside.
The film clocks in under the 100 minute mark and in that time manages to say so much about society’s need for stability and happiness, a need which sees people looking the other way away from indiscretions just so as they’ll feel wanted and valued. Expect lots of awards love for Allen’s screenplay and Blanchett’s lead acting.
Released across Ireland in selected cinemas on September 27th 2013