After years of filming almost exclusively in New York City, the director of Manhattan continues to make some of his best films elsewhere. Following consecutive stints in Paris and Rome, Woody Allen moves to San Francisco for Blue Jasmine, an embarrassment of writing and acting riches. With flashbacks that take place in New York and the Hamptons, the film pulls some inspiration from the filmmakers’ home turf, but the Bay Area is firmly his muse this go-round. If the results are this good, it doesn’t matter where Allen films, though his love affair with the California attraction stands out as better than even his recent hits.
Anchored by perhaps the definitive Cate Blanchett performance, the film finds her Jasmine fallen on hard times in the wake of her ex-husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) being exposed as a real estate fraud. Following a nervous breakdown, the only family left is her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), in whose Van Ness apartment the former socialite hopes to piece her life back together. The situation and the basic sisterly details certainly warrant surface comparisons to A Streetcar Named Desire, and while Allen’s writing is of Tennessee Williams caliber, there’s far more pleasure to be derived out of this tragedy, even if the characters aren’t particularly admirable.
Such unsavory nature begins with Jasmine, who proves to be somewhat of a magnet for misery. Deeply delusional, she changed her name from Jeanette because it wasn’t classy and flies first class even though her money is “all tapped out.” Carrying her haughty upper crust attitude to the West Coast, which causes all sorts of friction, she pops Xanax like tic tacs, unknowingly talks to herself in public, and is convinced that she’s going to get her interior design degree online…once she learns how to use a computer. Ginger is no angel either, however, as seen through her poor taste in men. Both ex-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) and unofficial fiancé Chili (Bobby Cannavale) are brash, repugnant fellows whose traits are horrifically amplified in Jasmine’s presence.
Though Blue Jasmine is firmly a drama, there’s still a good deal of classic Allen humor in the ridiculousness of the situation, particularly with others’ reactions to Jasmine’s behavior and the steady stream of inane, untrue things that issue from her beautiful lips. Under this assured direction, it’s fascinating to watch the tangle of lies and deception pile up, waiting for it all to come crashing down while Jasmine’s expertly woven New York backstory better informs current events. A sure sign of Allen’s superb script and Blanchett’s thorough channeling of his intentions, the character is a remarkable achievement amid a cast that all bring the goods. Perhaps even more impressive is that despite the sisters’ low likability, Allen presents them in such a way that we want them to succeed, though escape from their respective tailspins is key as well. Sophisticated at every turn, the film is a delight because of how these difficult people are portrayed, and for this combined mature effort, it’s one of the year’s best.
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, language and sexual content.