So, this year’s offering from Woody. It’s a far cry from his last good film, Midnight in Paris; that was a light-hearted and fluffy tale with a serious point (about nostalgia and the importance of living in the ‘now’), whereas this, ostensibly a comedy, is a serious and intense character study, occasionally leavened with a few jokes.
‘Intense’ is certainly the word that comes to mind. Cate Blanchett playes the eponymous heroine, who has changed her name from Jeanette in a bid to become more exotic, dropped her last year of school to marry a charismatic financier on his way up and lived the life of a wealthy Manhattan socialite. When we meet her, Jasmine is on a plane to San Fransisco to live with her, very working class, adoptive sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) because Jasmine’s world has just fallen apart, her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) having been convicted in a ‘Ponzi scheme’ type financial fraud, and all their assets taken.
Ginger is divorced with two children, though seeing a new man who wants to marry her and who the children get on with well. None of this suits Jasmine’s sense of what Ginger should be aspiring to, and she interferes even as she struggles to get her own life in order. We follow Jasmine’s attempts to make a new life, sometimes laudable, sometimes decidedly not, as well as the effects of her influence over Ginger, mostly not at all praiseworthy.
All the main players in this are excellent; Hawkins and Baldwin stand out, the latter seen in flashback, as Jasmine’s previous life is contrasted with her current one, and her character and self-image are scrutinised. And the minor characters also are fine. But the film belongs to Blanchett, unquestionably. She brings an almost unbearable intensity to the character that makes her the total focus of the film, even as we abhor many of her attitudes and choices.
There are problems with the film – some over-reliance on coincidence, some character behaviour that seems unlikely, and some story elements that seem a little melodramatic and unnecessary. Nonetheless, Blanchett’s playing and Allen’s writing of Jasmine really raise this to being one of Allen’s very best films.