|Cate Blanchett in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine|
THE problem with Woody Allen films is that sometimes they can just be a little too… Woody Allen-ish. This film doesn't disprove the rule, but neither does it disappoint. An hour and a half sucking an Allen flavoured throat-lozenge, left me inebriated by my San Franciscan glimpse into the troubled personal life of the film’s heroine over the course of several years.
Central to the film’s success is Cate Blanchett’s award winning performance (Best Actress in a Motion Picture at the Golden Globes). Blanchett pulls off haughty, fragile, domineering and vulnerable all at the same time. We focus on two adopted sisters – Jasmine (Blanchett) and Ginger (the impish Sally Hawkins) – a veritable Rose White and Rose Red plucked from the forest. Physically they couldn't be more different, and in personality they are equally polar opposites - one “has the genes” (Jasmine) and the other “could do better” - in her job, her choice of men and her flat. The wheel of fortune means that Jasmine, previously living the high life in New York, now has no home, no money and no husband, and so is forced to take refuge in her sister’s small apartment, put up with her sibling’s noisy children and colourful boyfriends, and worst of all… find herself a job.
The twist in the tale relies on trust and betrayal; class and status (both social and in the more intimate unit of the family) and the ability to re-invent yourself in order to survive. Maybe that’s why the film is doing so well in the UK – we love a family barney - mix in a class debate and you’re cooking on gas. In flashback scenes, establishing Jasmine’s past, we see Alec Baldwin as the philandering husband with dubious business finances, a resentful teenage son and an over-amorous dentist reminiscent of Barry – the one who was Rachel’s fiancé in Friends - but with even less charm…
Is there a resolution to the film? Not so much. We dip into Jasmine’s life, are witness to her social (and mental) decline, and then we leave again. There are hints that in five years’ time she may well be the bag lady (albeit wearing a shabby Chanel bouclé jacket, and clutching a battered Louis Vuitton bag) sat on a park bench, worrying passers-by and waxing lyrical about her former glories, luxurious house and perfect family, singing the refrain from Blue Moon for anyone who will listen. This is a situation every Londoner who has ever traveled on public transport will relate to, and here, in the film’s final scene, ‘Women on Bench’ also deserves honourable mention – perfectly playing i) startled realisation; ii) sneaky sideways glance and iii) swift move away from an unexpectedly vociferous bench-talker. We've all been there.
Woody Allen took the Outstanding Contribution to Entertainment Award at this year’s Golden Globes, re-enforcing Blue Jasmine’s success, and if the Screen Actors Guild and Critics Choice Awards are anything to go by, the film should do well in the Oscars too. The sorry tale of a spoilt and damaged fantasist, fallen on hard times and drugged up to the eyeballs on Xanax washed down with vodka is not the achievement. The feat of the film is that we care about her. We are willing her re-invention as much as she is. IT classes to learn how to work a computer from scratch, in order to pass an online degree, before embarking on the new career of interior designer is a pretty ambitious plan – so who can blame her for jumping at the chance of a shortcut? Even if it does rely on a few white lies? Just as she re-invented herself years before – originally just plain Jeanette, before re-naming herself Jasmine – pale, exotic and fragrant like the flower, the transformation to aspirational lifestyle is ready to begin again. She is simply editing the face she presents to the world, re-styling her history to suit the occasion.