Over on Twitter, I gave my quick and dirty assessment of Woody Allen's latest film:
"Blue Jasmine" was very good. Cate Blanchett was very great.
— Chad Dotson (@dotsonc) January 22, 2014
Permit me to elaborate. As I've mentioned before in these pages, I'm a committed admirer of Allen's work. His films over the last fifteen years have been uneven, at best, but there are some beauties sprinkled in there. Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona are fabulous, and 2011's Midnight in Paris compares favorably to anything you'll see from his peers.
The flip side of that coin is that Allen has written and directed some stinkers -- You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, anyone? -- but the best thing about Woody is that you only have to wait a year, and he'll have another movie for you to pick over.
Which brings us to Blue Jasmine, starring Cate Blanchett as the title character. Jasmine is a Manhattan socialite who has her world tossed asunder when her husband (ably played by Alec Baldwin) is sent to prison for his role in various financial shenanigans. Broke, and broken, Jasmine moves to San Francisco to live with her working class sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins).
Allen moves the narrative forward in very focused fashion, skilfully weaving flashbacks of Jasmine's previous life (relaxing in the Hamptons, for example) with her struggles to adjust to her new life. It is well-written, with all the hallmarks of an Allen comedy, including very strong performances by an ensemble cast. No performance is stronger than Cate Blanchett's.
Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if Blanchett were to win her second Academy Award next month. (No, I'm not really stepping out on a limb there. Blanchett just won the Golden Globe for this role.) She is engaging from the time she makes her first appearance on screen, seated on an inbound flight to San Francisco, as she bores the woman next to her with a barely-uninterrupted commentary on everything that has gone wrong with her life. Blanchett's Jasmine is never particularly likable, but somehow, she becomes eminently sympathetic throughout the course of the movie. If not a direct homage, the film was clearly inspired by A Streetcar Named Desire. More than once, I saw Vivien Leigh's Blanche DuBois in Jasmine.
The most surprising performance, as you may have heard, came from Andrew Dice Clay, as Ginger's ex-husband. Clay is legitimately good here, even if he didn't utter a single nursery rhyme in the entire film. Also good was Louis CK, as a seemingly-sweet guy who woos Ginger.
My only quibble is that some of the working-class dialogue didn't seem to ring particularly true, but that's a small criticism. Blue Jasmine is well-executed, and is a worthy addition to the Woody Allen filmography. By almost any measure, Allen remains near the top of his game, a formidable filmmaker still, after nearly five decades in the game.