I've often said that a simple story can work when done well. Plots don't get much simpler than Blue Jasmine, the latest from Woody Allen. After her life falls apart, Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) moves in with her adopted sister in San Francisco while she tries to pull it back together. It's not really any more complex than that. Blue Jasmine is character study at best.
Don't get me wrong, the story's not quite that thin. Through various flashbacks, we learn that Jasmine was married to a wealthy businessman, Hal (Alec Baldwin), in New York. Unfortunately, his shady business deals caught up with him and they lost everything. He was also having a series of affairs, and you see there was a part of Jasmine that was willingly ignorant about these things. Why rock the boat, right? Isn't there a saying about bliss and ignorance? They taste good cold or on toast or something like that? With her world crashing down around her, Jasmine has a nervous breakdown. Now she's prone to talking to herself, or anyone that will listen to her prattle on about how great her life was/is. On various medications and never without a vodka martini, there are moments where she looks truly disheveled.
Also through these flashbacks you see that Jasmine doesn't have much of a relationship with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), and her ex-husband (Andrew Dice Clay) is quick to point out that Jasmine wanted nothing to do with her when she had everything. If you're going to do flashbacks, this is how you do it. You're never confused about what part of Jasmine's life you're watching or where they are. The various establishing shots, changes in lighting, subtle dialog queues, and even Jasmine's appearance make this clear without every being explicitly told. No "six months ago" needs to be displayed on the screen.
Jasmine tries getting a job and going back to school, but her adjustment has been anything but smooth. She doesn't get along with Ginger's new fiance, Chili (Bobby Cannavale), either, and her moving in has caused a strain on her sister's relationship. Things finally start to look up when Jasmine meets Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard), a wealthy diplomat who has his sights set on political office. Even Ginger takes on a lover (Louis C.K.) as Jasmine pushes her to to do better than someone like Chili.
In a lot of ways Blue Jasmine reminded me of Young Adult. Both feature an unlikeable sociopath as its main character. They're full of crap, medicated and completely self absorbed in their own fantasy world. Hell, "Jasmine" isn't even her original name, but changed it because she liked the way it sounded. What are you, some kind of diva? Despite that you don't have much of a reason to like Jasmine, and she doesn't show much in the way of growth, you still find a sliver of sympathy for them. Bad things happen to her, some deserved and some undeserved. Whether or not you think Jasmine was a willing accomplice, or could have done something about some of these events, it's still a lot for one person to deal with in a short period of time. When things start to improve for Jasmine, I actually wanted it all to work out for her even though I couldn't condone her methods.
Also like Young Adult, it's carried by a great performance that keeps you interested in the journey. Watching a film about a broken person isn't always a picnic, but when it features such a strong lead performance, you can't help but find it interesting. Cate Blanchett was simply amazing! She's so believable as a drunk that it wouldn't surprise me to learn that she drank or medicated herself while filming. It's hard to fake that even if you have experience with it. I still thought she managed to have a sexy quality about her, but that might just be cause I have a thing for Blanchett. While this is one of Woody Allens strongest films in years, I don't know if it works as well without Blanchett. I've heard a lot of Oscar buzz already around her performance, and I wouldn't be surprised at all see her win it this year.
It's not completely a one-woman show though. The supporting performances are very good, too. Perhaps the biggest surprise is Andrew Dice Clay, who's been showing lately that there's more to him than just his comedy act. Alec Baldwin is as solid as he always is. Another standout was Bobby Cannavale, who continues to be one of my favorite, lesser known actors. I also felt sympathy for Ginger due to Sally Hawkins performance. Peter Sarsgaard is good in his small role, along with Louis C.K., who plays slightly against type.
This is a much darker installment from Woody Allen's when compared to the lighter tones of something like Midnight in Paris or To Rome with Love. That's not to say there aren't laughs to be had in Blue Jasmine, but don't go in expecting a laugh riot. Much of the humor comes from uncomfortable situations or sometimes outright laughing at the characters, but I didn't think it was necessarily mean spirited.
Blue Jasmine is another great entry in Woody Allen's catalog. While light on story, it's an interesting character study about a totally dysfunctional person, but still watchable because of a fantastic performance from Cate Blanchett. I hope she has her dresses picked out, cause she's gonna be pretty busy at all the award shows.
4 (out of 5) Death Stars