Blue Jasmine
Directed by Woody Allen
Starring Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Alden Ehrenreich, Sally Hawkins
98 minutes

Blue Jasmine sees an Oscar deserving return to form for veteran director Woody Allen, looking at family dysfunction and social insecurity in contemporary America, exposing the compromise not required but often a reality on the flip-side of the American dream.

That his new movie would reach the dizzy heights of Manhattan (1979) and Annie Hall (1977), the director’s early gems, was by no means a given. It’s fair to say that Allen’s offerings over the last decade have been unreliable. Midnight in Paris (2011) was the last film reminiscent of the writer/director’s flair for truly human characterisation and dialogue, with a colourful burst of make-believe to let the story jump off the screen.

Blue Jasmine is less imaginative but by no means less colourful, focusing on the unravelling of pathetic Manhattan socialite Jasmine (Blanchett) as she discovers, after looking the other way out of habit, that her rich and successful husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) is unfaithful and a con-man. Not only that, but his dirty dealings have squandered the carefully invested fortunes of her family and friends, making her carefully constructed upper class world is as fragile as her medication controlled panic attacks. Jasmine, back to square one, after her husband goes to jail and her son disowns her, is forced to turn to her adopted sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), in an attempt to rebuild her life with little or no practical skills other than a keen eye for interior design, and the liability of an appetite for anxiety pills and vodka.

Familiar stereotypes are portrayed with sincerity, finding a note of truth in caricature. Blanchett’s Jasmine is hopelessly self-obsessed and unable to look beyond her own problems and prejudice. While she attempts to come to terms with the blue-collar world of her sister Ginger and her string of disappointing boyfriends, her vulnerability gives the drama an innocence and accessibility that Allen’s more abstract work has lacked.

In Jasmine’s desperation, in her cluelessness, through her failures and disgraces we see her humanity, her weakness and her need. Blanchett’s Oscar-worthy performance inspires heartfelt pity and will have you rooting for the most unlikely of underdogs. The clarity with which Allen sees people and the natural way he has them interact is fantastic to watch, entertaining and regularly verging on the soap-operatic but never less than real.

What Allen’s early classics like Manhattan and Annie Hall hinted at was the desperate need people have to connect with each other and to be understood. Part of Allen’s success as a filmmaker is rooted in his ability to facilitate this mutual desire for understanding and to make it entertaining and relevant.

Verdict: Funny, absurd even, but heartfelt and thought provoking,  Blue Jasmine indulges the weaker side of our nature inviting empathy rather than judgement and could be a welcome reminder that the pursuit of happiness, to be worthwhile, must first pursue the happiness of others.

Ronan Wright blogs about films from Belfast at Filmplicity

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet