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New Release Review - Blue Jasmine

A Manhattan socialite is forced to rebuild her life following her husband's arrest on fraud charges.

Directed by: Woody Allen
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Peter Sarsgaard, Sally Hawkins, Bobby Cannavale, Louis CK, Alec Baldwin, Andrew Dice Clay, Michael Stuhlbarg


Former New York socialite Jasmine (Blanchett) arrives at the San Francisco home of her sister Ginger (Hawkins). Through flashbacks we see how Jasmine's wealthy lifestyle fell apart following the arrest of her husband Hal (Baldwin) for defrauding multiple clients through a ponzi scheme, the victims of which include Ginger and her then husband Augie (Clay). With all of her and Hal's wealth taken by the government, Jasmine is left penniless and moves in with Ginger in an attempt to get her life back on track.
Fans of Allen will be familiar with his New Yorker's contempt for California; several digs at the expense of the Golden State can be found throughout his work. In 'Annie Hall', California is seen as a state populated by frauds, while New York is a much more down to earth place. With 'Blue Jasmine', his latest in a growing line of "comebacks", Allen flips this dynamic; the residents of San Francisco are warm and friendly, while New York is full of exactly the same sort of pretentious snobs we saw in Allen's seventies idea of the West Coast. While he's always let it known how fond he is of his native Big Apple, Allen has never failed to show his contempt of a particular brand of upper-middle-class New Yorker and 'Blue Jasmine' serves as a poison pen letter to the money-obsessed New Yorkers who feed on others like parasites in pin-stripe.
Much has been made of the comparisons between 'Blue Jasmine' and Tennessee Williams' 'Streetcar Named Desire' but, for me, Allen's latest has a genus earlier than the publication of that play - the "women's pictures" that were so popular in the thirties. It's easy to imagine Barbara Stanwyck or Joan Crawford in the role of Jasmine and the thirties' jazz cuts Allen scores the film with suggests his influence is more King Vidor than Williams.
Blanchett has received much praise for her role, and deservedly so; I doubt we'll see a performance to rival this, from a performer of either gender, in 2013. I once ran a shop in a wealthy area of Dublin and Blanchett's portrayal of a woman driven mad by lack of purpose and reliance on her husband reminded me of the "trophy wives" I would encounter; once attractive women now broken and stinking of wine and gin, their bloodshot eyes hidden behind designer shades. 
It's Allen who ultimately deserves the credit for creating such a fascinating character, however. This isn't a simplistic attack on snobbery; Jasmine may seem monstrous on her first appearance, but, as the film progresses, we see she herself is the primary victim of her husband's corruption and by the film's conclusion she has gained our sympathy.
Allen exposes the snob in all of us by making us at times see things through Jasmine's eyes. When we first meet Chili (a brilliant Cannavale), the grease monkey boyfriend of Ginger, we can't help but agree with Jasmine's disapproval of him as a suitor for her sister. By the film's end, however, we feel ashamed for judging him in such a way as we see he's arguably the most likable character in the film.
When Jasmine first enters her sister's humble (by American standards; Europeans would consider it considerably spacious) apartment, the camera slowly pans across the room and we immediately judge the tackiness of the decor. At the film's conclusion, the camera repeats this shot, but in reversal, and suddenly the same room we mocked ninety minutes ago now feels warm and inviting. It's a very simple, yet very effective, piece of film-making. Bad film-makers make the storytelling process seem incredibly complex; great film-makers make it seem incredibly simple. If last year's 'To Rome With Love', easily the worst film of his lengthy career, made us temporarily forget, 'Blue Jasmine' reassures us Allen is still a great film-maker.
9/10


Eric Hillis

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