Watching Cate Blanchett play Blue Jasmine‘s title character, a former socialite spiraling into a full-blown mental breakdown after the unmasking and subsequent suicide of her Bernie Madoff-esque husband, I found myself questioning whether I had ever hated a character more.
That’s not a snipe on Blanchett – quite the opposite, in fact. It’s just a tribute to the merciless nature of writer-director Woody Allen’s screenplay, which paints Jasmine as a self-centered, vacant, spiteful woman, an individual made out to be so loathsome that you have to wonder whether Allen is mocking her even as he charts her downfall. Blanchett embodies his despicable creation completely, turning in the most stunningly powerful performance of her career thus far. Every facial tic, panicked glance, trembling hand and muttered piece of dialogue is demonstrative of the actress’s tremendous range. Despite her vapid, selfish nature, and the fact that she brings almost all of her misfortunes upon herself through refusing to learn, I still felt a twinge of sympathy for Jasmine, and that’s all thanks to Blanchett. I’m trying to think of one scene to single out as her finest in the film, but I’m coming up short. Her acting is sublime from the first frame to the last.
Blue Jasmine is really an embarrassment of riches as far as its performers go. Blanchett is unbelievably good, but when Jasmine arrives in San Francisco off the plane from New York, fleeing the high-flying life she’s suddenly been cut out of, she soon encounters the film’s other truly great character: her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Quietly resentful of Jasmine’s success and preferred status with their unseen parents (“She got the good genes,” Ginger is fond of saying), Ginger has carved out a small life for herself bagging groceries, but she’s happily settled into that low-paying job. An ex-husband, two kids, star tattoos and a grease-monkey boyfriend are her prized possessions, and she’s satisfied with the hand she’s been dealt. That is, until Jasmine shows up, spewing vitriol about her inability to see that she deserves more and how she should reject her current situation. This being Woody Allen, Jasmine’s instructions feel deeply, deliciously ironic, and the character’s toxicity to Ginger becomes increasingly clear throughout the film. Hawkins plays every note perfectly, nailing the accent, Ginger’s kind heart and her tenuous relationship with her sister. Blanchett gets the showier role, but Hawkins is almost equally phenomenal.
It’s fun to be able to unabashedly hate Alec Baldwin for once. The actor plays Jasmine’s husband Hal (in flashback) as a sleazy, smooth operator, a lion hiding his teeth beneath a perfect smile and expensive suits. It’s easy to see how a character as easily dazzled as Jasmine would be so taken in by his charms as to look the other way when less savory aspects of his personality emerge. Though he’s in a small role here, Baldwin is quickly able to build Hal into a real financial wolf.
Andrew Dice Clay is fantastic as Augie, Ginger’s raging ex-husband whose terrible situation becomes increasingly clear as more about Jasmine’s backstory emerges. He’s best known for his comedy, but Dice Clay also does a commendable job in this decidedly unfunny role, playing a good man who got completely steamrolled by Hal. He’s the character who elicits the most sympathy, despite initially being presented as the one who deserves it the least. The other man in Ginger’s life, the loud-mouthed but sweet-natured Chili, is finely drawn by Bobby Cannavale. Though he’s slightly loutish and certainly blue-collar, Cannavale’s portrayal is earnest and respectful, and Allen’s script never mocks him.
In more minor supporting roles, Louis C.K. is well-cast as Al, a seemingly sweet guy who enters to sweep Ginger off her feet in the middle of Jasmine’s visit, and Peter Sarsgaard does a surprising amount with the slight role of Dwight, a diplomat with political aspirations who embarks on a whirlwind romance with Jasmine, despite neither knowing anything real about the other. Blue Jasmine is a terrifically cast film from top to bottom, and there’s not a weak link in sight.
The only less-than-satisfactory aspect of the film, in my opinion, is Allen’s script. Though filled with some excellent barbs and his trademark satire, the screenplay makes extensive use of flashbacks, which sometimes had the unintended effect of taking me out of the film’s main plot. Perhaps it was a necessary evil for Allen to be able to tell the story he wanted to tell, but Blue Jasmine‘s structuring leaves a little to be desired.
It’s an ultimately minor quibble. Allen’s cinematography ranks among the finest of his career, and his light hand behind the camera does a lot to shed light on aspects of both Jasmine and Ginger. The performances are terrific, the music is deceptively jolly, and Blue Jasmine finds the veteran director in fine form. I got swept up in Blue Jasmine, and enjoyed myself immensely.
The Blu-Ray transfer for Blue Jasmine boasts 1080p high definition video quality, which allows Allen’s bright color palette to pop spectacularly. The director goes for a somewhat nostalgic feel with his cinematography, making extensive use of warm gold lighting, and the transfer completely retains the timeless, magical quality of that choice. Details are very sharp throughout, especially in Ginger’s apartment, where plates are piled high and there’s complete clutter around the characters at all times. No complaints whatsoever about this transfer.
Though Allen doesn’t really do much with sound in Blue Jasmine, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track captures every nuance in characters’ voices and implements the enjoyably light score of the film well. Not much to say about background sounds, but the dialogue is all commendably crisp and clear, which is what the audio track set out to do.
Blue Jasmine comes with just two special features, which are:
- Notes from the Red Carpet
- Blue Jasmine Press Conference
That’s pretty slim pickings as far as bonus features go, but what’s included on the disc is worth a watch. The “Notes from the Red Carpet” featurette, which clocks in at under six minutes, finds the actors and actresses of the film reflecting on their characters and experiences working with Allen, considered a legendary director in Hollywood for some time now. It’s a short but well-made bonus feature.
The rougher, 25-minute press conference feature features Cate Blanchett, Andrew Dice Clay and Peter Sarsgaard answering a multitude of questions from reporters. Some of the questions posed are inelegant and warrant mediocre responses, but all of the actors make some intriguing statements about acting for the film and the steps that led to them coming on board the project.
That’s it as far as special features go, but that disappointment aside, there’s nothing to stand in the way of you picking up Blue Jasmine on Blu-Ray, as the vibrant colors of the film obviously look best in the highest definition you can find. However you see it, Blue Jasmine is worth a watch. It offers some of the best performances from 2013, especially Blanchett, who will almost certainly bring home an Oscar for her efforts, and a darkly humorous storyline that ranks among Allen’s best work. Though Blue Jasmine is certainly not an uplifting watch, the power of Blanchett’s performance is such that you won’t want to miss it.
Cate Blanchett's absorbing portrayal of a boozy socialite on a downward spiral is just one of many brilliant performances in this dark and witty dramedy, surely one of Woody Allen's best films.