There’s barely anybody else in cinema alive today who explores contemporary neuroses quite like Woody Allen. For over forty years, this filmmaker has cultivated a breed of unmistakably neurotic cinema that sends scalpels through our urbane society, meticulously dissecting modern relationships, cultural and existential manias and the dysfunctions of the bourgeouis with his signature wit and cynicism that there’s barely any rock left that this mega-prolific writer-director hasn’t turned already. He’s inarguably a living legend, despite being reminded that his last film was the underachieving and almost near-pointless To Rome With Love. And just when you think that another creative slump is in order, he bounces back with Blue Jasmine – a film that, when given a good deal of analysis, may be one of his most significant work in his entire career, and we’re talking about four decades of filmmaking here. It doesn’t reach the masterpiece levels of Annie Hall and Manhattan (honestly, what does?), but it certainly betters his recent cinematic soufflé that was Midnight in Paris, the charming time-travel stroll into the Hemingway-era City of Lights which everyone touted as his return to form. In Jasmine, Allen has done a U-turn, left his travelogue stints around Europe, abandoned all whimsy and went back to his homeland to deliver his most focussed and most coruscating work in donkeys’ years.
Returning to America has done the director good, undistracted by picture-postcard sights and fancifully contrived scenarios, making him narrow his lens into the life of his tragic anti-heroine, the eponymous Jasmine, a spectacle of haute couture, smeared mascara, vodka martinis, migraines and meltdowns. Allen creates this fascinatingly pathological character who defies sympathy and compassion, and scores with the astonishing sight of Cate Blanchett undergoing a schadenfreudian nervous and mental breakdown on screen. Blue Jasmine is essentially about a woman losing her shit, hitting rock bottom after climbing the social ladder way too high, and Allen writes the material with savage wit, deftly see-sawing between comical satire and existentially dark pathos. He’s dealt with darkness recently before (see Match Point) but not as pointed as Blue Jasmine, poking on themes of class delusions, corporate swindling, economic theft, morality, suicide and mental deterioration. It’s a tricky balancing act – but Allen achieves this with such ease and skill. As soon as Jasmine hits San Francisco, fleeing the upper-crust estates of Manhattan from a financial catastrophe inflicted by her husband’s Ponzi scheme, the narrative begins unravelling, going backwards and forwards in time (a technique Allen employed in Annie Hall), as if the film is trying to understand where her life went wrong.
Blanchett, an actor of proven talents, surpasses herself with her portrayal of the mentally unstable Jasmine. Her face is the foreign land Allen is keen to explore, and the actor wrings out every possible emotion the human face is capable of expressing. There is a magnificently withering scene where the camera zeroes in at Blanchett’s sozzled, weary face, as she confesses her downfall in front of her half-sister’s two boys as if in a fugue state – it’s a sight so repellent and yet so tragically human. She’s never an easy figure to empathise with – a condescending, perpetually dissatisfied materialist, swigging Xanax down with alcohol, with virtually zero life skills whatsoever, and constantly patronising her half-sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins, also nuanced) as a loser – when in reality, Jasmine is embodiment of failure. Her ignorance of moral responsibility in return of the finer things in life has fed her grand delusions, that when the lifeline has been cut off for a reality check, she’s a figurative fish out of water, gasping for air. Jasmine deserves every single misery she brought upon herself, culpable of all her comeuppance, and yet somehow making us a feel a shred of understanding is largely due to the miracle of Blanchett’s performance.[separator type=”space”] DIRECTOR: Woody Allen | CAST: Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin, Peter Sarsgaard | SCREENPLAY: Woody Allen | DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Bros. Pictures | RUNNING-TIME: 98 mins | GENRE: Drama/Comedy | COUNTRY: USA