In Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine Cate Blanchett gives a bravura performance as a woman some way over the edge of a nervous breakdown. Previously married to a fabulously well-to-do New York banker Jasmine has the rug pulled abruptly out from under her when he’s indicted for fraud leaving her effectively homeless and with no option but to move to San Francisco and seek shelter with her sister Ginger, who leads a somewhat less privileged existence to the one Jasmine’s become accustomed to. She’s visibly traumatised by the sudden reduction in her circumstances and finds it hard to adjust to a life where everything isn’t handed to her on a plate but opportunities to re-establish herself do emerge and her position isn’t hopeless as long as she’s able to present herself honestly.
Blue Jasmine is interesting for starting at the point where a more conventionally shaped narrative might end. Jasmine’s back-story, which unfolds in flashback throughout, would in itself make a perfectly satisfying movie with a standard issue moral about the perils of hubris: a haughty and materialistic woman suffers a humiliating downfall when the lie that her lifestyle is based on is exposed. We’ve seen this kind of thing before but it’s less common for the aftermath of such a collapse in status to be examined and although there are elements of the situation that Jasmine finds herself in that seem a bit one-dimensional (the portrayal of Ginger and her various friends as lovable dopes comes off as a bit patronising) she’s seen to remain true to her character, with no sappy epiphany about true family values bolted on. Blanchett really owns the movie, oscillating between high-handed disdain and tear-stained nervous collapse in a way that makes for distressing but compelling viewing and it’s difficult to imagine anyone else being able to carry it off (the closest performances to this that I can think of are Julianne Moore in Magnolia and Judy Davis in Allen’s Husbands And Wives).
In terms of tone this a comedy of manners as much as it is a drama I guess although there aren’t many explicitly funny lines in the script and most of the laughs that arise come from the strained and awkward interactions between the hyper-tense Jasmine and the gauche but usually generous-spirited people she finds herself having to live and work with. On several occasions you find yourself laughing involuntarily at something really quite inappropriate, such as an argument about what the precise cause of death is when a person hangs themself. There’s also, unusually for Allen, a slight suggestion of topicality with the theme of unsustainable wealth being bought at the cost of ordinary people’s lives being played on every now and then, and while this isn’t explored deeply it helps to make this a significantly more relevant and probing a film than most of his recent output. I’m not sure that Blue Jasmine is a film I’m going to want to come back to again and again in the same way as Annie Hall or Hannah And Her Sisters – its definitely an abrasive watch as opposed to a comforting one – but it’s great that he’s still able to make a film now and then that’s got real content.