Woody Allen and I go way back, with his sharp, rambling dialogue forming a large part of how I came to fall in love with cinema. Being a big fan, I felt more than happy to spend eight of my very precious pounds (of which I currently have a rather dwindling stock) on what he had to show for himself with latest work, Blue Jasmine.
The film follows Jasmine, played by the wonderful Cate Blanchett, who undergoes the rich-bitch-turned-poor treatment and basically doesn’t deal well with the process. After her wealthy husband is revealed to be a crook, Jasmine’s life gets flipped upside-down and she jets off to live with her sister in San Francisco for a slightly more modest lifestyle – a well-known formula, of course, but Allen takes the tried-and-tested format and twists it into something nuanced with plenty of his neurotic charm and subtle humour.
That said, the humour is pretty dark. My sister winced her way through it, but luckily that’s the type that gets me going. I was having an especially shitty day, topped by being told off by my sister’s ageing neighbour, Mary, just before we left for the cinema. Yes, I wanted a world that would be slightly gloomy with me, its humour tainted with some cynicism and darkness but still raising an eyebrow with the knowledge that it comes loaded with a laugh somewhere along the line.
Most of the comedy stems either from the quick-witted script or the characterisation, including that of Ginger, Jasmine’s naive yet loveable working-class sister, played by the brilliant Sally Hawkins. Ginger’s fiance, Chilli, also offers some light comic relief, but ultimately it is Cate Blanchett who steals the show, shedding her image of grace and poise and absolutely nailing the Chanel-clad prim type totally losing her shit.
Sipping on Stolichnaya vodka as if it were air to breathe (also the tipple of choice for our own dear Patsy of Ab-Fab), Blanchett’s Jasmine is in the midst of having a nervous breakdown. This is at times somehow hilarious, her low voice growling at the world around her, but its effect also slips into moments of poignancy, highlighting the very real and very volatile issue of mental illness. Allen always plays around with themes of mental health, himself being a self-confessed and widely publicised raging neurotic, and although at times the film makes for hard viewing, it lets us indulge in a little snigger at lunacy before luring us in to face the harsh aftertaste that is reality.
Inside the difficult themes are some fantastic details. Usually a film’s costume designer has his or her work cut out to keep the outfits coming, but it’s the use of repetition that works so gloriously here. Jasmine is a snob and label addict, and even when her funds dry up she refuses to stoop. Instead, we see repeated outfits that desperately cling on to the last of her wealth; she would rather wear apparel worn out from the excessive sweat of her meltdown than slum it in high street garbs.
Allen’s trademark jazz score also comes into its element once again. Somehow playful and sympathetic both at the same time, the soundtrack mimics the two moods of the film that create such a beautifully jarring disharmony. It’s a feature that lingers hauntingly in your mind long after the credits roll, much like the energy of Jasmine’s trembling nerves.
I suppose part of the appeal with this film for me was that I had been feeling almost as pissed off as Jasmine looks in the picture above. After being told off by Mary, I, too, wanted to saunter round clutching a Stoli martini with a twist of lemon, pouting out at the world that has left me unemployed and unfulfilled. One particular scene in which Jasmine recounts life’s recent hardships in a manic, bitter frenzy to bemused nephews struck a little close to home, leaving me with the embarrassing realisation that, ‘Oh, shit. That’s what I look like when people ask me what I’m up to these days.’
But as the plot progresses and Jasmine’s eyes grow ever more bloodshot, it’s hard not to let the mini-meltdown that you think you’re having fade quietly into the distance. Things most definitely could be much, much worse.
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