By Roger Thomas
Friday, September 27, 2013 —
In my review of “To Rome With Love,” I wrote about my 26-year interest for the films of Woody Allen. It all started when I saw “Hannah and Her Sisters” in the theater and what followed was a near obsession to see every film Allen ever made. I believe I have seen all of them now, and some certainly charm me less than others. Last year I listed the following films as my favorites from Allen’s canon: “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” “Annie Hall,” “Radio Days,” “Alice, Everyone Says I Love You” and “Bullets Over Broadway.”That list has not changed.
I did not care much for “To Rome With Love.” I actually described it as “not Allen at his best.” Therefore, I am glad to report that “Blue Jasmine,” Allen’s latest creation as writer/director, is a much better film than his last.
The anchor to the success of “Blue Jasmine” is the incredible performance of Cate Blanchett as Jasmine. Blanchett almost always delivers an outstanding portrayal, but in many roles she is playing someone emotionally strong: Queen Elizabeth I in two films, Katharine Hepburn, Galadriel the elf, Daisy in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” just to name a few. Looking back over her career, and I have certainly not seen every film she has made, the character closest to her performance as Jasmine in Allen’s film would be the role of Sheba Hart in “Notes on a Scandal” (a great rental choice if one has not seen it). Sheba is emotionally collapsing because of her horrid moral choices. I am not sure if the character of Jasmine ever really had morals, but sadly, the immoral choices of others have left her weak, vulnerable and incapable of reconstructing her life alone.
Allen does not attempt to make Jasmine likeable. She is more pitied than embraced by the audience. If one desires for her life to get better it is out of sympathy rather than a sense of fondness for Jasmine. Allen’s writing and Blanchett’s performance have created something special, an antihero we seldom see in films today.
Beyond Allen and Blanchett’s work, there are other strengths in the film. Sally Hawkins, Andrew Dice Clay and Bobby Cannavale have great roles that are pivotal to the story. Peter Sarsgaard, who is one of those underrated actors who can play very understated characters, hits just the right emotional notes as he gains more insight into who Jasmine is.
There is also clever humor in the film; not as much as some of Allen’s work but much more successful than the punch lines in “To Rome With Love.”
This is also a film about moral outrage. Jasmine’s husband, Hal, conned a lot of people out of the money as he and Jasmine lived lavish lives. Hal represents all those who caused the financial collapse of 2008. The film is not necessary about the collapse but rather that aftermath in the lives of a few who were affected. It is not at all preachy but there is certainly a note of condemnation throughout the film. Allen has almost always been at his best when he is exploring moral dilemmas. (see “Crimes and Misdemeanors” for the best example of this.)
As I have written before, one of the finest compliments I can give any film is that the ending works. It compliments the entire experience of the film. This is certainly true in many of Allen’s works, and it is true here, most definitely.
I close with the reminder that this is not one of Allen’s greatest works, but with Blanchett’s extraordinary performance, Allen’s screenplay and direction, plus enough other positive attributes, it is a film worth experiencing.
Roger Thomas reviews films for The Stanly News & Press and thesnaponline.com.