By Duane Wells
Place has always played a significant role in Woody Allen movies, but this has been particularly so in a string of Allen’s most recent films, many of which have enjoyed increasing levels of critical and commercial success. Such is the case in Blue Jasmine, Mr. Allen’s latest starring a luminous Cate Blanchett at the very height of her acting powers in a role that recalls her recent stage triumph in the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Tennessee Williams’ A Street Car Named Desire.
As he did with Paris in Midnight in Paris and with Barcelona in Vicky Christina Barcelona before that, Allen makes San Francisco his muse in Blue Jasmine, lovingly depicting everything from the grittiness of the Mission to the elegant majesty of Marin County in that understated swoon-worthy fashion that is the director’s signature. The film tells the story of Jasmine (Blanchett), a fallen New York City socialite and hostess, who is forced to downsize her life substantially and move in with her much less well-off sister (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco when her big time, financier husband Hal’s (Alec Baldwin) financial house of cards comes tumbling down.
Watching a Chanel-clad, martini-swilling, Xanax-popping Blanchett navigate her way through her new life and circumstances in San Francisco is downright riveting stuff. In fact, it may be one of Blanchett’s best roles in recent years in the sense that it really gives her talents a wide berth within which to shine. For as coolly sophisticated and chic as she is at her homes on Park Avenue and in the Hamptons, Blanchett’s Jasmine is unnerved and constantly on edge in her sister Ginger’s mortal world and cramped apartment. Andrew Dice Clay and Bobby Cannavale as the former and current love interests of Jasmine’s sister Ginger (Hawkins) also deliver strong performances
Despite all of its not so subtle references and nods to A Street Car Named Desire, Blue Jasmine is a thoroughly contemporary tale that mirrors the rise and fall of a great many socialites like Patricia Kluge and Ruth Madoff who flew too close to the sun in the last decade, only to find themselves now living in much-reduced circumstances. For her part, Blanchett does these women a great service by showing us their humanity, while Allen, in one of the best efforts of the third act of his career, brilliantly captures the duality of life in America and the contradictions that often come along with it. That it’s all done with a gleaming and romantic San Francisco as a backdrop is purely a bonus.