Review by © Jane Freebury
The opening credits are unexceptional before we get down to business but it’s impossible not to feel excitement about seeing the work of two great talents on screen, Woody Allen and Cate Blanchett. How will he use her gifts? A sashaying jazz score draws you in and you know you are in good hands.
As anyone who has watched the rivetting trailer knows, this is about relationships, infidelities and neuroses. Standard for Allen, though much less so for Blanchett. It’s also about class as it manifests in the US and the pains an aspirant, Jasmine (Blanchett), will go to to insert herself into high society. Even when she’s supposed to be bankrupt she flies first class as she leaves New York to find anonymity living at her sister’s. It will be a new start on the west coast, with a little help from Xanax.
Her sister Ginger, played with disarming honesty by Sally Hawkins, is everything Jasmine is not. She lives happily with her two sons in San Francisco, works as a checkout chick in a grocery business and is in and out of boyfriends who adore her all the same. Some of the funniest scenes involve Ginger and her crazy boyfriends, and it crossed my mind that she would have made an even better subject for our attention.
As a representative of the moneyed classes, Jasmine’s ex Hal is a seedy Alec Baldwin special. The two of them are phonies and writer/director Allen has made Hal the type that we hold responsible for the GFC. His wife Jasmine turned a blind eye to the high stakes financial chicanery, but one affair too many spurs her into action.
Allen has said when he got Blanchett for the his film it felt like scoring an atomic weapon, but I don’t think her portrait of mental collapse can become legendary like Gloria Swanson’s turn in Sunset Boulevard, or Bette Davis in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, or Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves. Blanchett is wonderful but the film just doesn’t feel that distinctive.
Over a 43 film career, Allen has had the most marvellous actors work with him. Yet, there’s something disposable about Allen, despite his brilliance as a writer-director. The feeling that he just tosses his work off with such ease, reliant on the old proven moves. His protagonists, male or female, can seem like iterations of the Allen persona.
Blanchett is brilliant in meltdown, more the victim of her own delusions than much else. We know that this actor can do anything, even Dylan, but if she’d been Ginger with a pesky, self-obsessed sister down on her luck there would have been a more interesting and less travelled story path there.
In a capsule: Blanchett is brilliant in meltdown, but this latest Woody Allen relies too heavily on her firepower and doesn’t offer a character interesting enough to engage with.