Film Review: Blue Jasmine - Cate Blanchett delivers astounding performance as fallen Park Avenue princess

5.00

A miracle of a movie, given Woody Allen's recent film-making history

To call Woody Allen's new film a "return to form" would be misleading, since his film-making in the past 20 years has been so erratic that it's hard to know what his "form" might be anymore. I'm inclined to think of Blue Jasmine instead as a small miracle, an autumnal drama as exquisite as it is unexpected. At times you have to wonder how Allen, in his late seventies and a seeming decline, actually made it; by the end, it's clear that nobody else could have made it.

In its basic situation can be heard the distant clang of A Streetcar Named Desire, though it's neither pastiche nor reprise, just a quietly respectful tribute. Cate Blanchett takes on – magnificently inhabits – the role of Jasmine, a Park Avenue princess who's hit the skids. We first meet her on a plane, jawing away to a fellow passenger (anyone will do), then arriving in sweaty turmoil at the cramped apartment of her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco, her home for the next few weeks. Ginger wonders how Jasmine, broke, can afford to fly first-class and tote Vuitton luggage, though she's too kindly and accommodating to make a fuss. Jasmine, gargling vodka martinis and popping Xanax like M&Ms, would appear to be a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown – or is she already over the verge and plummeting? That she keeps muttering to herself on the street isn't a good sign.

Allen unpeels the truth by flashing back to her former life, a gilded routine of shopping, charity events and weekends in the Hamptons. Her husband, a Manhattan plutocrat, is played with slippery suavity by Alec Baldwin. He's called Hal, though from what we can gather of his business dealings he may as well have "Bernie Madoff" monogrammed on his polo shirts. Jasmine also suspects him of cheating on her, but as with his finances she sees the advantage of turning a blind eye. That's the vital theme of the film: how far self-delusion can take you before that self starts to disintegrate. The sudden transplant from East coast to West also involves a downward lurch in class. Haughty and entitled, Jasmine sniffs at Ginger's car-mechanic boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale, a Kowalski minus the sexual menace) and disdains the attempts to matchmake her with one of his uncouth pals. It's like watching Katharine Hepburn being chatted up by Lou Costello. As for the amorous dentist (Michael Stuhlbarg) who makes a play for her, well, pulling her own teeth would be preferable.

Where other film-makers (the Coens, for instance) would have mined Jasmine's disgrace for sardonic comedy, Allen sees as much poignancy in her comedown. And he couldn't have chosen a better actor than Cate Blanchett to embody it. With every twitch, every startled glance and impatient gesture, Blanchett finds the human within this monster of snobbishness. With her persuasive cheekbones and bruised tiger eyes, she recalls a phrase Pauline Kael once used to describe Dominique Sanda – "a depraved Valkyrie". There are hints in her mental fragility of Blanche Dubois, a part Blanchett has played on Broadway – the clue is (almost) in her name. And in the rueful stripping away of status you may even be reminded of the fallen socialite of Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone". (Allen, who would never willingly reference any music later than the 1940s, here harps on "Blue Moon", Jasmine's nostalgic touchstone.)

At times her performance feels almost too painful for the scale of the movie, as though she were channelling Ibsen (or Tennessee Williams) while everyone around her is playing light comedy. Almost. What interrupts the sorrow is a humorous touch of self-awareness, never openly expressed, but perceptible in a sidelong look or a lowering of her voice. If it's fair to say Blanchett carries the movie, that's not to undervalue the superb ensemble playing. Hawkins, as the humble, put-upon sister (she and Jasmine were adopted), is fresh and alive, and her two blobby adolescent sons are a splendid Dickensian cartoon of absurdity. Peter Sarsgaard is smoothly reptilian as an ambitious congressman who falls for Jasmine, proving that romantic delusion isn't the exclusive province of women. Best, and most surprising, is Andrew Dice Clay as Ginger's ex-husband, a blue-collar guy with a grudge against Jasmine. I'd heard of Clay as a stand-up from the 1990s, but it seems he can also act. His late encounter with Jasmine is one of several small scenes he does beautifully, a miniature of tenderly spoken resentment.

How should we respond to this story of a spoilt woman's comeuppance? It's impossible not to feel for her. Jasmine, knowingly or not, colluded in the ruin of many, but she has ended up broke, homeless, barely sane. The pathos of her downfall is registered in nuances of observation, like the cream Chanel jacket she wears too often, clinging to the facade of her former prosperity. That facade, so dearly bought, will be the last thing to go. Allen has written brilliant parts for women in the past – for Diane Keaton in Annie Hall and Manhattan, Mia Farrow in Broadway Danny Rose, Judy Davis in Husbands and Wives. But writing a part and casting it are two different skills. Here, he may have made the smartest choice of his career: Cate Blanchett's performance really is that good.

If I have bestowed an extra, perhaps unwarranted star on the film it's because of her – and also because this is my last column for the newspaper. It's nearly 15 years since I wrote my first, in which time I've watched more movies than is probably good for me, or for anyone. Some of them I loved. Thanks for reading; it's been a privilege to advise you. And may I wish you many more ripping times in the dark.

Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Andrew Dice Clay and Sally Hawkins in a scene from Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Andrew Dice Clay and Sally Hawkins in a scene from "Blue Jasmine"

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas