One sister goes to stay with another and doesn't get on with the guy her sister's with (he's violent, and, in her eyes, lower-class). She's also a fantasist who clings to dreams of a superior life elsewhere while pouring herself one drink after another. Theatre-goers know this scenario well from Tennessee Williams's "A Streetcar Named Desire". Cate Blanchett played the role of Blanche DuBois, the sister who does the visiting, three years ago.
In Woody Allen's latest movie, "Blue Jasmine", Blanchett plays Jasmine French, a swish Manhattan socialite who falls on hard times when her financier husband turns out to be a colossal fraud. She goes to live with her sister (the terrific Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco, and the film alternates between the unfamiliar blue-collar world she encounters on the West Coast and the fur-collar world she left behind. One of Woody Allen's harshest and least funny films, "Blue Jasmine" gifts an actress in her prime a remarkable new role that's fused with a great old one: Blanchett DuBois.
It's many roles really—disdainful sister, needy mother, spurned wife, tell-it-as-it-is bitch, abstemious snob and energetic pill-popper. Rising above all of these is a skyscraping monument to self-absorption. An armoury of designer clothes, vodka and dreamy memories of "Blue Moon" keep unwelcome realities at bay, most of the time.
Jasmine's physical traits are compelling: she attaches herself like adhesive tape to her smooth husband (Alec Baldwin), wriggles out of the beery greeting of her sister's boyfriend, and rakes in the sea view from a new boyfriend's house with the beadiest of gazes. Best of all, when distraught, she convulsively empties the contents of her handbag on the sofa, then frantically grabs at each item, as if her life could be snapped back into order.
The way Michael Caine used to read scripts was to look at the first ten pages and then look at the last ten. If his character was roughly the same he concluded that nothing much had happened in between. "Blue Jasmine" scores high on the Caine Test. The camera that adores the serene Fifth Avenue beauty hosting a golden candle-lit dinner party later lingers over reddened eyes, puffy cheeks, bruised lips and dank hair. Drama students, take note: Blanchett offers a masterclass in ugly crying.
Her character is driven by a fear of losers, and the central irony is that her husband turns out to be the biggest loser of all. Thanks to him, Jasmine loses everything, and now we are watching her, literally, losing it. There's a further irony here. Jasmine will earn Blanchett an Oscar nomination, for sure—and, very likely, a win.
Blue Jasmine Britain Sept 27th