For over fifty years, Woody Allen has brought to life a wide array of eclectic characters, from the neurotic New Yorker to the nostalgic screenwriter. The director’s latest film, 'Blue Jasmine', introduces a new iconic character to his repertoire - the narcissistic and vapid socialite going through a life crisis. Both cripplingly comic and intensely tragic, Cate Blanchett’s riveting performance as Jasmine takes center stage, as she creates a whirlwind of emotions while managing the delicate mask of her character’s instability.
The film focusses on Jasmine, a middle-aged elite member of New York society, who suddenly finds herself out on the street when her financier husband (Alec Baldwin) is convicted of fraud. Exiled and ridiculed from her past life, she is forced to relocate to her sister’s (Sally Hawkins) cluttered working-class apartment in San Francisco. Completely underwhelmed by her sibling’s simple life as a single mum, Jasmine desperately attempts to reclaim her place in society.
While viewers are instantly transported into Jasmine’s tumultuous hurricane of neurosis, Allen deliberately paints an incomplete picture of his characters’ history. Instead, he brings us back and forth between the heroine’s (or anti-heroine) glamorous past and vodka-consuming, Xanax-popping present reality. These flashbacks give an effective choppiness to the film that allows viewers to slowly discover each character’s intricacies and lets Allen carefully select the optimal moment to unveil certain plot developments for full comic effect. Whether audience members have written off Jasmine as an innocent bystander in her husband’s downfall or her sister as a solid and sincere girlfriend, they might change their minds about each character’s fate once the entire story is revealed.
Witty, real, funny and heartrending, the film effectively captures the dichotomy between social classes as Jasmine and her sister are depicted as two extremes. The hostile and opulent world of the New York social elite is juxtaposed to the liberal and welcoming life of working-class San Francisco. Yet, as these characters come full circle, viewers are forced to question which of the two is truly better off.
Stark contrasts continue to infiltrate the film through each character’s multiple faces. Allen has created a world plagued with disguised individuals and each actor plays their multiple roles with immensely versatile skills. Blanchett embodies Jasmine’s many personalities, from the upper-class trophy wife to the distraught and irrational outsider. Both pitiful and brave in her attempt to move forward, the Oscar-winning actress is able to establish a connection with viewers by broadcasting Jasmine’s constant discomfort. Simply put, this is a knockout performance.
While Allen’s recent films have vacillated between strokes of pure genius and superficial distractions, 'Blue Jasmine' promptly reaffirms his status as a master of his craft. This black comedy is drenched with a realistic rawness that will invite viewers to simultaneously laugh and cry at the humor latent in Jasmine’s tragic circumstance. Despite the film’s engaging premise and witty dialogue, the portrait of Allen’s broken socialite would not be complete without Blanchett’s layered performance. This is her show.
'Blue Jasmine' is out in UK cinemas, through Warner Bros.