Woody Allen is back and at the top of his game with ‘Blue Jasmine’

I hate jumping the gun. I hate to declare something the “best movie of the year” when it’s still early on. I hate to call something “an Oscar-worthy performance” when we have yet to see the real competition. But here and now, I’ll make an exception. Because at this moment in time, I feel it would be a disservice to downplay the goods Woody Allen’s latest, “Blue Jasmine,” has to offer. So here it goes: Cate Blanchett is going to be nominated for Best Actress this year. And to push my luck I’ll say: I wouldn’t be surprised if she wins the damn thing. There. We’re still a few months away from Oscar season, and yet I confidently stand by that statement. This is the kind of performance awards are made for.

While many are labeling “Blue Jasmine” as a comedy, I don’t quite see it that way. It’s certainly not without its humorous moments, but this is the return of the dark Woody Allen. This is an in depth character study – one that’s filled with biting social commentary, some of Allen’s signature flourishes, and a devastating and mesmerizing performance by Blanchett.

Jasmine was living the high life: she had gorgeous homes in Manhattan and the Hamptons, was the host of many a lavish dinner party and was constantly being adorned with jewels and the likes by her wealthy financier husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin). When it came to light that her husband was a Bernie Madoff-like crook, she lost everything – not only her extravagant, carefree lifestyle, but a good deal of her sanity as well.

With no more money and nowhere to turn, Jasmine leaves Manhattan behind and heads to San Francisco to live with her working-class adoptive sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins). This is where the film starts off. Expertly using flashbacks, Allen intercuts between the past and present, slowly giving us more and more information about how Jasmine ended up where she is now. As the story progresses and we delve deeper into Jasmine’s life, we’re left with one of the most vivid and realized characters to grace the screen in years.

Jasmine is neither likable nor without blame. In fact, she’s her own worst enemy. But even so, there’s something about her that makes her a character worthy of our sympathy. And that is where “Blue Jasmine” hits upon one of its greatest strengths. She’s stock full of negative qualities: she’s snobby and self-centered, and is seeping with feelings of self-entitlement. She constantly looks down on her sister and her “grease monkey” boyfriend, Chili (Bobby Cannavale). At one point in the film, Jasmine lashes out at her sister, attacking her taste in men (“You choose losers because that’s what you think you deserve, and that’s why you’ll never have a better life!”). Of course as it turned out, Jasmine herself picked the biggest loser of them all. But in her twisted mind, her ability to successfully husband hunt makes her worthy of the luxuries that come with such a union.

But as unpalatable a character as she is, she’s so real and so human that to wish any of these tragedies on her would be heartless on the part of the viewer. She’s fragile and delusional – we rarely see her without a drink or pill bottle in her hand. Sometimes we find her babbling to herself (think “A Streetcar Named Desire’s Blanche DuBois).

It’s clear that Allen, despite his not-sofavorable opinion of those of her kind, feels something for her other than pure disdain. Jasmine is never quite as easy to hate as you would think – a testament to the combined brilliance of Allen and Blanchett.

Rating: A

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