Where Midnight in Paris was musing upon art and love, this darkly funny, deeply disturbing and topical story is back to writer/director Allen’s original wheelhouse. Like Annie Hall, this film relies heavily on the current culture, though it will live long beyond that touch-point based on the quality of the result.
Despite being very much Allen’s, it isn’t entirely identifiable as one of his efforts. The dialogue feels more natural and controlled. The editing is both more fluid and complex. Allen loves to let stories tell themselves. He is also very fond of allowing actors to just do what they want, with only minor prodding. Often this makes some scenes feel like bad improv. Jasmine has almost no moments of this, though that may due mostly to the impressive cast than the directing or writing.
And what a cast.
Blanchett (Hanna, Heaven, The Gift) turns in one of her most painful and complicated performances. She will be giving Dench a run for her money come Oscar time, and it won’t be an easy choice between the two. Blanchett manages to stay true to, and unashamed of, Jasmine who isn’t the easiest woman to sympathize with. It is an intensely intimate view of a woman’s life crumbling around her.
Supporting the film, Hawkins (Submarine) balances Blanchett as her very different sister. The two struggle with ideas of love and family right through to the end.
Bouncing the two women around are a series of men and circumstances primarily played by Baldwin (Rock of Ages), Sarsgaard (Robot and Frank), Louis C.K. (The Invention of Lying), even a surprisingly good turn by Clay (The Adventures of Ford Fairlane). Each embodies different aspects of similar men. And, finally, Ehrenreich (Stoker) creates a small, but necessary appearance as Jasmine’s son.
The film evokes echos of A Streetcar Named Desire. Perhaps this was part of Allen’s choice to place it in San Francisco? It doesn’t track directly, but it is hard to avoid the recognition in the relationships and characters. As painful as it is, much like Streetcar’s Blanche, you won’t be able to take your eyes off Blanchett, even as you squint at her through your fingers at some of the moments. And as dark as all this sounds, it is also full of triumphs and humor to help keep it all from collapsing under its own weight.
In many ways, this may be Allen’s best serious film, from a purely critical point of view. It has the fewest weaknesses and one of the best and most consistent casts. Given the Streetcar nods, I’ll give him all the Brooklyn and Bronx accents pervading San Francisco, though it was a little distracting. Of course, with a list of films as long as his, it isn’t an easy statement to make. Allen is an oeuvre unto himself. But whether you like Allen or not, it is worth your time for Blanchett alone.