Delightful, tonally sound, and uncomfortably hilarious, Blue Jasmine finds Woody Allen back in fine form after a schizophrenically inconsistent string of films that ran the gamut between amicably diverting (see: Midnight in Paris) and maddeningly sketchy (see: To Rome with Love).
Much of the film’s success has to do with Cate Blanchett’s marvelous performance as the neurotic, Xanax-popping title character. Fragile and anxious and infuriating and showy and vindictive, her anti-hero makes the film mesmerizing even when Allen loses his focus. Undeniably, she sets a new standard for dysfunctional people. Blanchett’s work is Oscar-calibre, and may snag her the golden statue itself.
Each member of the supporting cast has the opportunity to do something memorable, and established talents and new faces rise to the occasion. They are wonderful almost without exception: Michael Stuhlbarg as the leering dentist, Peter Sarsgaard as the aspiring politician, Sally Hawkins as the frumpy sister, Louis C.K. as the doting lover. The lovely, dynamic surprises are the unknowns that jump off the screen: Alden Ehrenreich as the estranged son, Andrew Dice Clay as the divorced husband, and Bobby Cannavale as the eternal target of Jasmine’s biting attacks.
Restructuring Tennessee Williams’ timeless A Streetcar Named Desire somewhat problematically, Allen nevertheless pulls off an impressive screenplay laced with dark, scathing humour and compelling characters. The film also acts as the most effective and naturalistic ode to San Francisco as anything Allen has done on his “world tour.”
If it remains partially saddled with typical Allen flourishes and shortcomings (a lack of refinement, some clunky narrative unevenness, a hard-to-swallow dose of cynicism), and never reaches the heights of its brilliant inspirational material, Blue Jasmine finds Allen – like Jasmine – out of his comfort zone, and the result is one of the nerviest, freshest films of the year.