With Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Peter Sarsgaard, Sally Hawkins, Andrew Dice Clay. Written and directed by Woody Allen. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, language and sexual content. 98 minutes.
Putting aside the overall arc of Woody Allen’s career as a filmmaker, his dramas have always been a problem. The plain truth is that one of the greatest comic writers in the English language has a tin ear when it comes to dramatic dialogue. To go through his dramatic films is like watching the proverbial clown who wants to play Hamlet or, in Allen’s case, direct like his idol Ingmar Bergman. Movies like “Interiors,” “Another Woman,” and “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger” were painful, especially because great actors were struggling to bring his leaden scripts to life.
There was one exception to this, and it was 1989’s “Crimes And Misdemeanors.” It wasn’t simply the comic story with Allen, Mia Farrow and Alan Alda that made it memorable–although it was very good–it was Martin Landau’s standout performance as a doctor coping with feelings of guilt after he has his shady brother arrange for the murder of his mistress. The dramatic story easily could have failed, but Landau’s acting was so strong it lifted up everything around him. Allen has tried to do it again in dramatic films since, but it took Cate Blanchett to help him succeed with BLUE JASMINE.
Blanchett–who was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress and will almost certainly get it–plays Jasmine. At the start of the film she has left New York for San Francisco and we quickly get her story because she sees herself as the star of her own tragedy. Her husband (Alec Baldwin) was a big New York financier whose house of cards has come tumbling down. She’s now moving in with her working-class sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) while trying to figure out what to do with her life.
Her problem is not only her fall from the heights. It is that she isn’t really equipped to be anything but a society hostess and a trophy wife. While Ginger is feisty, has a job, and a boyfriend (Bobby Canavale) who may be a bit crude, Jasmine finds herself in a world where she lacks the ability to cope, which is to say the real world. Her attempts to date or hold a job put her up against people with whom she never had contact with when she lived in her cocoon.
In Jasmine’s mind this is simply wrong. She feels anything is justified to get back to the sort of life she is entitled to and which she is good at, allowing a State Department official with political ambitions to romance her. If she has to lie or omit the truth, so be it. Indeed, in her mind, it is the only rational course of action.
Blanchett, who already has proven herself a fine actress (and won the Oscar for playing Katharine Hepburn in “The Aviator”), does more than show us Jasmine’s delusions. Her characterization lets us see how her actions make perfect sense to her, and how restoring herself to the role of society hostess is the only place where she can feel secure. At the same time she also shows us how Jasmine is become increasingly disconnected from reality.
With her performance as an anchor for the film, Allen is able to surround her with supporting players who can bounce off her, from Baldwin’s slick investor to Hawkins’s sibling dealing with her high-maintenance sister. Perhaps most surprising is ‘80s blue stand-up comic Andrew Dice Clay, who pops up in several scenes as Ginger’s ex-husband. Older and with some miles on him, he turns in a strong performance as someone who found his life changed for the worse for having known Jasmine.
Allen has never been an actor’s director, giving his casts the freedom to do their thing within the confines of his scripts. Actors have flocked to him for the chance to try and, given a strong script, performers like Landau, Diane Keaton, and Dianne Wiest–among others–have soared. Now we have to add Cate Blanchett to that list. Her “Blue Jasmine” is one you won’t soon forget.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.