The IMDb entry for Woody Allen notes that as a young boy he became intrigued with magic tricks. However, it is his magic on the screen for which he is better known. While I would not say that I am an expert on his back catalogue, those that I have watched I have enjoyed, and two – Midnight in Paris and Vicky Cristina Barcelona – made it onto my Top Ten for their respective years.
When her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) is involved in a financial scandal, glamorous New York socialite Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) loses everything. Forced to leave the city with only her Louis Vuitton luggage for company, she seeks refuge with her working class sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), whom she has previously ignored. However, as the mounting pressure of adjusting to her new life become too much, she increasingly seeks solace in reflecting on where it all went wrong. Comparisons with A Streetcar Named Desire abound.*
With a snappy script and the gift of a hugely rich character, Allen has handed Blanchett the chance of a career-defining performance. She doesn’t disappoint. Her portrayal of Jasmine perfectly recreates the fiercely controlled disintegration that is the trademark of the middle classes – while deep down she understands that the Hamptons can no longer be home, she still clutches at any possibility (real or imagined) of a return to her former life. The other characters seem like cardboard cutouts in comparison – the double-dealing husband, the struggling working class mum-of-two, the vapid New York friends.
Despite Blanchett’s performance, the film is strangely unrewarding viewing. This may be because none of the characters, regardless of their place on the class spectrum (and this film is all about class) seem particularly deserving of empathy – Jasmine may not have been blameless, but she doesn’t deserve what comes to her, and (despite the fact that far fewer opportunities have passed her way) her sister Ginger is far too prepared to settle.
It is billed as a comedy-drama, but this film is much darker than most of Allen’s previous offerings – it is definitely not going to leave you feeling warm and fuzzy inside. However, for Blanchett alone, it is well worth making the effort. Her only Oscar thus far has been in a supporting role (as Katharine Hepburn in 2004’s The Aviator). This may be about to change…
*In addition to the obvious script parallels, Baldwin had previously played the role of Stanley Kowalski on stage in 1992 and in the 1995 adaptation of the play, while Blanchett played the leading role of Blanche DuBois in the Australian production of the play staged by the Sydney Theatre Company in 2008.
98 mins | 12A | September 27
Watched: October 12, Cineworld Fulham Road, Screen 2