Woody Allen's new film Blue Jasmine opens in Irish cinemas today, Friday September 27. Paddy Kehoe finds out whether the maestro is in top form.
Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) turns up in San Francisco, falling to pieces, endlessly talking - often to herself - and trying to make a new life. She moves in with her step-sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in a run-down part of the city. Her dress and general style suggest a wealthy, elegant lady, but the truth is she is in severe debt, and has no one else in her life to lean on except Ginger. Her cosseted New York existence, bound up with marriage to the utterly fraudulent Hal (Alec Baldwin) is in pieces.
So it's a dramatic comedown, living with Ginger and her two young sons in the poky apartment. Jasmine's decline is brilliantly dramatised through the clever use of flashback, and one veers between pity and ridicule for the pathetic creature that she is, with all her airs and graces.
But people are complicated, and Jasmine is somehow more than that too, as rendered with immense sensitivity by Blanchett in a powerful, mesmeric performance.
Meanwhile, Ginger's possessive boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale) resents Jasmine's presence, not just because of her innate snobbishness, but because the plan was that he would move in with Ginger. It is fascinating to watch Jasmine try to get a foothold in a social milieu that she has never known; her back against the wall, with nothing to show for her life, bar superficial grandeur. So she continues with her Martini and Xanax habit, while trying to resurrect a collapsed life. But her past follows her to San Francisco.
Blue Jasmine is shot through with that rueful humour and charm so characteristic of the best of Allen's movies. Ginger's story is equally fascinating as it interweaves with Jasmine's brave attempts, against the odds, to pull herself up by her Louis Vuitton shoe straps.
Blanchett exudes an intense, magisterial power as the ill-starred heroine, very much the distracted, traumatised and tragic Blanche DuBois, sliding towards meltdown. The manner in which she pulls herself repeatedly back from that slide is what intrigues in what is clearly one of Allen's very best films of recent years.