With the Oscars just around the corner (Sunday, to be exact) it’s no surprise that prolific writer/director Woody Allen’s latest film endevour, “Blue Jasmine,” is a hot topic, with nominations for Cate Blanchette (Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role), Sally Hawkins (Best Performance by and Actress in a Supporting Role), and Allen himself (Best Original Screenplay). But is Allen’s latest really all it’s cracked up to be? I say not quite.
“Blue Jasmine” follows the slow decline of a New York socialite, Jasmine (Blanchette), as she becomes progressively more neurotic. Told through two overlapping timelines (Jasmine before and after her divorce, bankruptcy and insanity), the basic plot seems to be “A Streetcar Named Desire” with a facelift. Jasmine, a borderline-insane compulsive liar, comes to San Fransisco to live with her sister, Ginger (Hawkins). Woody’s Jasmine shares many characteristics with Tennesee Williams’s Blanche DuBois, from her blonde hair and flitting laugh to her strained relationship with her sister’s love interest, in this case a mechanic named Chilli (Bobby Cannavale).
I went into “Blue Jasmine” with high hopes, expecting yet another Allen masterpiece. Yes, I understand that not every movie, even every Allen movie, can live up to the standards set by “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan” or even the more recent “Midnight in Paris,” but nonetheless I was disappointed with the script. Don’t get me wrong, “Blue Jasmine” is in no way a train wreck. I wouldn’t even stoop to call it mediocre. However, the screenplay is missing the classic Allen sparkle. The dialogue doesn’t seem quite snappy enough, quite natural enough, and multiple times I found myself pulled out of the story by characters who appear far more eloquent than anyone I’ve ever met. So is “Blue Jasmine” a crime against the sacred art of screenwriting? Not in the slightest. But is it Best Original Screenplay material? Not really.
That being said, both Blanchette and Hawkins did indeed shine in their respective rolls. It requires a lot from an actor to successfully portray a mentally or emotionally unstable character, and Blanchette achieves this with grace. She gives Jasmine just the right amount of insanity, just the right amount of twitchy paranoia, social obliviousness and emotional turmoil to leave the viewer wondering, “Is she really crazy? Is there really something off here? Or is she just, you know, a little unique?”
Hawkins, too, brings life to Ginger, Jasmine’s West-Coast, working-class sister. Hawkins’s undeniable charisma makes Ginger quite possibly the only likeable character in the whole film. In Hawkins’s portrayal of Ginger, the audience at last finds someone to connect with, striking the perfect balance between the familial devotion of one sister to another with her increasing frustration towards her sister’s irresponsible and irrational behavior.
All together, “Blue Jasmine” is not one of Allen’s best works, not by any means. However, it just might be one of Blanchette’s and Hawkins’s.