When a director has been going as long and as consistent as Woody Allen has, they are bound to have many “seminal works”. But in my mind that doesn’t make saying this film is a seminal Woody Allen film any less of a statement. It’s a film that’s all at once comic, tragic yet always loving to the ugliness on display. It’s about how we self-perpetuate our own tragedies, and whether or not we ever figure that out.
His latest revolves around Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) as she moves in with her adopted sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco after a nervous breakdown that followed from the fallout of her white collar criminal husband being jailed.
Did we need more proof that Cate Blanchett may in fact be our lord and savior? Her character is filled with multiple and gross shades of self-denial and self-importance, and Blanchett plays it with such semi-heartbreaking honesty and commitment. It’s as if the camera isn’t even there, only she is. Jasmine seeks to make everyone’s problems her about her. She is effectively her own worst enemy. Jasmine would be so easy to hate if not for Blanchett, who allows us to see ourselves in her with expert emotive complexity. It’s absolutely hilarious and uncomfortable to watch all at once. Sally Hawkins matches her with all the warmth, endearment and decency that Jasmine lacks in her portrayal of her adopted sister Ginger. Alec Baldwin plays a somehow even sleazier variation on his “30 Rock” character of Jack Donaghy for Hal, Jasmine’s criminal ex-husband.
In turn, Allen also writes some splendid dialogue for smaller characters who seem to go out of their way to offend Jasmine throughout, which skilled actors such as a practical yet fierce Bobby Cannavale, a resolvedly bitter Alden Ehrenreich, an obliviously annoying Max Casella, an alls-star caliber awkward Louis C.K., a pervy Michael Stuhlbarg, a belligerent Andrew Dice Clay and a smarmy Peter Sarsgaard nailing it.
The film juxtaposes storylines of Jasmine’s past high-end lifestyle in New York City, and the complete inverse of how she lives with her sister in San Francisco. Blanchett perfects the stages of her anxiety and self-entitlement at various stages in both cities.
Cate Blanchett more than deserves to take home the Oscar. But I fear that the recent re-unearthing of Woody Allen’s scandal will hurt her chances by proximity. As noted by Jen Chaney of The Dissolve, the subtext of The Academy giving an award to a Woody Allen film right now will speak volumes, and they probably don’t want to press Blanchett into commenting on the scandal in her acceptance speech – in fact it’s almost eerie to watch the scenes of the divorce beginnings between Jasmine and Hal, as well as the bitter hatred from her non-biological son with current events in mind – it’s a sad state of affairs for a marvelous performance. But award or not, this will go down in history as one of her finest roles, which is saying a lot given her pedigree.