By Michael Calleri
Niagara Gazette — Like clockwork, Woody Allen makes movies the way most of you make breakfast. It’s as if he needs the sustenance filmmaking brings him the way you need nourishment from your morning meal.
I hope your breakfasts are as fulfilling as Allen’s movies. I have stated before that I am a full-fledged fan of his motion pictures. He’s made a feature a year since 1982; some major, a few minor. He is the greatest living American filmmaker.
I once wrote and still stand by this: “Allen’s films are exquisitely-made, with cinematography and production values that are as good as can be; many times approaching greatness. I think of his films as cinematic short stories and eagerly await each new work. As with all superior artists, Allen has themes that he enjoys exploring. I don’t see that as a negative. I enjoy discovering how he puts a new spin on something familiar.”
With “Blue Jasmine,” that something familiar is Blanche DuBois, the frustrated and addled heroine of Tennessee Williams’s “A Streetcar Named Desire.” The link between Allen and Williams is Blanche’s self-deception as practiced by Jasmine, a wealthy Upper East Side New Yorker who has reinvented herself once before and faces that daunting task again.
Jasmine was born Jeanette in a world miles away from the gold dust of Manhattan and the Hamptons. She has a sister named Ginger, who stayed true to her ordinary self. They were both adopted, which is why they are so completely dissimilar. In Jasmine’s invented world, she is clothed in Chanel, fueled by premium vodka, and deluded into believing her past is so far behind her that it makes any history impossible. When she talks, she speaks with the clenched-jawed whisper of luxury.
Married to an obscenely rich financier, Jasmine delights in Park Avenue dinner parties and grand museum openings. However, she’s living an illusion, not only regarding herself, but also regarding her husband. He is an oily crook who has stolen millions of dollars from his clients. He gets caught. Jasmine has nowhere to go but down. And down she goes, into what she considers the lower depths. Her husband commits suicide, most of her posh friends have abandoned her, and those few remaining ladies who lunch certainly aren’t going to let her live with them.
Jasmine decides to return to her roots. She flees to San Francisco, where her now-divorced sister lives, because Ginger is not someone who judges. Although her sister and ex-brother-in-law were also cheated by her husband, the always blithe Jasmine is desperate, so Ginger must fill the void. Jasmine may be broke, but she flies out west first class. The working-class Ginger tries to help her emotionally, even introduces her sister to her friends for possible dating, but what you’ll see is a shell-shocked Jasmine constantly distracted, hearing people talk, but rarely listening to what they say.
“Blue Jasmine” tells some of its story in flashback, as Jasmine, propped up by Xanax and her ever-present vodka, tries to cope with her new situation in California, all the while being wistful and melancholy for New York. Her sole advice to Ginger’s chubby, but well-adjusted young sons: “Tip big, boys.”
Allen, who, as expected, has written his own well-crafted screenplay, focuses on Jasmine’s delusions, not to the detriment of the other characters, but because his film is a study of monstrous self-absorption. There are a few comic lines, but this is primarily a drama. Those who identify with Jasmine may see it as a tragedy.
At the core of this superb movie is Cate Blanchett’s brilliant performance as Jasmine. An Oscar nomination will be hers, and Allen may find himself nominated as well. Just seeing Blanchett walk with her imperious contempt for what she discovers in San Francisco is alone thrilling to watch. Hearing her talk is cinematic paradise. Watch Blanchett when the possibility of her being an interior designer is mentioned. Can she really do it? The shift in her eyes and tone of voice is a revelation.
Allen has found an outstanding cast to balance Blanchett, including, but not limited to, Alec Baldwin as Jasmine’s oily husband Hal, Alden Ehrenreich as her estranged son Danny, Sally Hawkins as Ginger, Michael Stuhlbarg as a dentist, Peter Sarsgaard as the diplomat who falls for the illusion of yet another reinvented Jasmine, and Bobby Cannavale as Ginger’s new boyfriend, the Stanley Kowalski of the San Francisco world director Allen is stirring up.
“Blue Jasmine” is one of the best movies of the year. Javier Aquirresarobe’s cinematography captures the urban pulse of a city tourists don’t often see.
Allen, a master at creating strong women characters, has done it again. And with Blanchett as Jasmine, he has found the perfect actress to say his believable and engaging words.Michael Calleri reviews films for Night and Day. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.