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Blue Jasmine

Year: 2013
Production Co: Perdido Productions
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Bobby Cannavale, Andrew Dice Clay, Alec Baldwin

As Woody Allen emerges further from a long dark night of the soul and both critics and audiences re-establish him as one of the modern masters, it's interesting to see him visit two places he spends very little time in – California, and the lives of the middle class.

The last time I was aware of a Woody Allen movie set on the west coast of the US was the nightmarish trip to LA his character Alvy took in Annie Hall. And one charge levelled at him that's quite right is that he's always told the stories of the rich and privileged creative class.

But he shines a light on both in Blue Jasmine as former society wife Jasmine, formerly Jeanette (Cate Blanchett), arrives to stay with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) to get back on her feet after her life's been turned upside down.

As Jasmine tries to adjust to a radically different way of life, we learn through flashbacks that she's has fallen far from grace, her financier husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) having been jailed by the FBI for high level fraud, but not before she lived like a queen amid riches, luncheons, race horses and wealth.

But Jasmine, after apparently rising above the blue-collar roots that made her and her salt-of-the-Earth sister, doesn't want to let go of past glory. She's a self-deluded and judgmental snob to the bitter end, even as she has to take a job as a dental assistant and hang around Ginger, her working class boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale) and their friends.

While she should be fawningly grateful to the sister she snubbed out of class embarrassment and now relies on, Jasmine works tooth and nail to maintain her illusions about her self-importance, never facing her biggest fear – that she spurned opportunities to make something of herself, choosing instead to turn a blind eye to the wrongdoing that gave her such a free ride.

When – in one of the flashback sequences – her friend seems relieved that Jasmine has finally discovered Hal's affairs because 'everybody knows', the film comes to a focus point about the fantasyland of riches Jasmine has always lived in, one that leaves her with nothing after it's taken away.

Even when given the opportunity to get back to where she wants to be thanks to the attentions of an aspiring politician (Peter Sarsgaard), Jasmine's inability to face what happened to her threatens it all, and she's left an essentially tragic figure, keeping redemption out of reach all by herself.

It's great to see Allen convincingly portray (and undertstand) the working class as he does with Hawkins, Cannavale and especially a grizzled Andrew Dice Clay as Ginger's ex husband. Though he spends a lot of time at the opulent New York environs of his natural home, he shows the crumbling, chaotic homes and lifestyles of the middle class just as well.

As with all his films the dialogue can get a bit stagey at times, and you're reminded that Allen is a writer first and foremost – not for him the free-wheeling improv of Judd Apatow to make things realistic. He loves the words and they're what he casts his actors to bring to life.

But the weight of the movie falls on Blanchett's shoulders as the neurotic and self-absorbed Jasmine – a figure as repellent as she is pitiable – and Blanchett wrangles Oscar-worthy chops to bring her to life beautifully. It's in every sniping comment, every outburst at her situation and every subtle flinch away from people and places that might get her covered in poverty. There's a darkness building behind her eyes that threatens to burst forth as Jasmine comes dangerously close to admitting the truth about herself, and Blanchett walks the balancing act over the abyss brilliantly.

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