Blue Jasmine (***½)

blue_jasmineOne thing that Woody Allen never has a problem with when putting together a new film is finding a top notch cast. Even his “weaker” efforts (which we all know I still find to be at least watchable, if not better) have been rather star studded and containing memorable performances. With Allen’s latest movie Blue Jasmine, the filmmaker has one of his best ensembles in some time and one of his very best leading lady performances ever in the form of Cate Blanchett‘s title character. Some may say that this plethora of quality performances has something to do with no one having to be the “Woody Allen stand-in”, but I think it’s just a coincidence and a product of the great parts written for them. Though at times the plot can get a little clunky, this is still a fine script from Allen (especially the creation of the title character) and features some very flattering shots of San Francisco, which gets a version of the touristy treatment that European cities have gotten of late from the filmmaker. Blanchett is far and away the best part of this flick, but the rest of the cast is great too, especially Sally Hawkins, Bobby Cannavale, Louis C.K., and yes, even Andrew Dice Clay (especially him, in fact). After stumbling somewhat last year with To Rome With Love, Allen is back in a big way. Oscar is likely to take notice…

From the moment we meet Jasmine (Blanchett), we know something is very off about her. Besides going by a different name than Jeanette, which is her birth name, Jasmine has a propensity to either confide in strangers or talk to herself. She’s on her way to San Francisco to stay with her sister Ginger (Hawkins) for a while. You see, Jasmine is broke, having lost everything in the years since her rich Wall Street honcho husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) was revealed to be a fraud. In flashbacks, we see how Hal got Ginger and her then husband Augie (Clay) caught up in a scheme of his and cost them a large sum of money. Now, they’re divorced and Ginger is seeing another man, Chili (Cannavale). Jasmine has never thought much of Ginger’s taste in men and isn’t shy about letting her know. Completely spoiled and fully incapable of taking care of herself, Jasmine quickly becomes a burden and starts causing trouble for everyone around her. Before long, Ginger is moving from Chili to a somewhat more acceptable to Jasmine man in Al (C.K.) and Jasmine is lying about her past to a well to do government worker named Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard). As we switch back and forth between Jasmine’s past life of excess and her present life of alcoholism and anxiety, one starts to see how she could be a modern day Blanche DuBois in some ways.

o-BLUE-JASMINE-570I think Cate Blanchett is lock for an Oscar nomination and could actually win the damn thing for Best Actress. Blanchett is captivating and easily delivers one of the best performances of 2013 so far. Her downward spiral is portrayed brilliantly, never becoming too maudlin or too broadly comedic. You feel for Jasmine, but you never completely grow to like her. It’s a fine line, but Blanchett walks it impeccably. She’s perfect here, but hardly the only one doing impressive work. Sally Hawkins could easily find herself in play for Best Supporting Actress with her grounded performance. Next to Blanchett’s mania, she seems the picture of sanity and their dealings together recall some of Allen’s scenes in Hannah and her Sisters. Hawkins isn’t on Blanchett’s level, but she’s still great. Delivering the best male performance in the film, believe it or not, is Andrew Dice Clay, who brings some fantastic humanity to a role that could be seen as rather simple. He’s not in the film too much, but Clay really leaves his mark. Louis C.K. has a decent subplot, but he’s not given enough time to really elevate the performance from good to great, though he’s very solid. Bobby Cannavale is his reliable self, and the same goes for Peter Sarsgaard. As for Alec Baldwin, he fits the part of a scheming money man quite well The rest of the cast includes Alden Ehrenreich and Michael Stuhlbarg, but Blanchett is the one that’s impossible to forget.

Woody Allen has delivered more finely tuned scripts before and shown more creativity in his direction, but Blue Jasmine is one of his more satisfying mixes overall. This is easily his best film set in America in some time, that’s for sure. The screenplay has some incredibly memorable characters and doesn’t overplay the cynicism inherent in the material, but at times the characters do have to recite mildly clunky dialogue. It’s Allen infused clunk though, so it’s still enjoyable. The visuals are solid but most scenes are actually indoors, so it’s a treat when San Francisco is showcased. Midnight in Paris was a bit more stylish in terms of his direction, but this is just as high quality a picture in most ways.

In terms of awards possibilities, I think the film is a lock for Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay, so Blanchett should be preparing to attend the Oscars and Allen should be preparing to skip it once again. They both are frontrunners to win too in my book. The film itself is certainly a potential Best Picture nominee, with Allen possibly showing up in Best Director if voters go wild for it. The only other nomination to really keep your eye on is Sally Hawkins in Best Supporting Actress, though I’d love it if Andrew Dice Clay showed up for Best Supporting Actor.

Blue Jasmine is high quality Woody Allen, so fans should rejoice and more causal viewers can breathe a sigh of relief. Cate Blanchett is astounding, so her alone is reason enough to see this, but the entire package is very good. This is one of the ten best films of the year so far in my book, so this is a must see folks…

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!