Blue Jasmine does not just mark Woody Allen’s move away from comedy into drama, it is his very own Grecian style tragedy. His tragic hero, Jasmine, was once a wealthy New York socialite and model wife. Now she’s a broken and despairing nobody. Jasmine has had her fall from grace and we meet her on the other side as she starts scrambling back together the pieces of her life.
Indebted to A Streetcar Named Desire, Jasmine takes after Tennessee Williams’ troubled lead Blanche DuBois. Allen takes a mature and sensitive approach to identity and how we come to realise or fabricate it. It is through her loss of everything – possessions, a husband, a place in society, that she too seems to lose a part of herself. We are left with a shell of a woman.
Allen does not want to sit us down and teach us about life. Instead, through juxtaposing the different paths of the two adopted sisters, Ginger (Sally Hawkins) and Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), he exposes its complexities warts and all. In questioning the happiness of the characters on screen, we begin to internalise these feelings ourselves. This makes for difficult but rewarding, viewing.
Throwing together questions of morality, fidelity, worth and love, Blue Jasmine is as much a search for answers for the director as it is for us. Although grounded in seriousness, this film does remind us, with rare glimpses, of Allen’s great sense of humour. Allen is a naturally funny director, and can’t help but embed some quite nuanced humour in this, easily his darkest work since the turn of the millennium. From Ginger’s gormless and inappropriately inquisitive sons to the uncomfortable flirtations of Jasmine’s dentist boss, there is a lot of black comedy at work here.
And, Cate Blanchett. Whispers of ‘Academy Award’ can already be heard and are well deserved. Although we are by no means encouraged to sympathise with Jasmine, Blanchett creates a character who is unmistakably human. Yes, Jasmine is selfish, self-righteous and deluded, but Blanchett blends with this the sense of a truly disturbed and troubled protagonist, one who has much deeper problems than having to sell off her personalised Louis Vuitton luggage.
Blue Jasmine is difficult. It is cruel, and painful, and left me with a strange stomach ache by the end but it was all worth it. The pain I took from it was a mere fraction of that put in by both the director and his fantastic ensemble and it did feel like a labour of love. Considered and emotive, this will easily sit in the Allen hall of fame, and makes up for last year’s To Rome With Love with aplomb.