Now Playing: Sweet Smell of ‘Jasmine’

Woody Allen is one of the most prolific filmmakers of the last 100 years. Despite his age, he continues to push out an original film each and every year. His latest, called ‘Blue Jasmine’, fares better than some of his recent efforts and will leave a lasting impression. Assisted by one hell of cast, Allen’s eye captures the true essence of a city and the harsh identity of his characters.

The film centers on a woman named Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) who has lost everything, from her husband and her son to her money and her houses. We first meet her in a First Class seat on a plane, heading from New York to San Francisco to stay with her half-sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Once she arrives at her sister’s modest apartment in a shoddy neighborhood, we get a sense of what Jasmine has been through, and it ain’t pretty. In a series of flashbacks intercut throughout the film, we see Jasmine living the ultra-high life in New York City with her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin), a billionaire banker who is all about business 100% of the time. However, his constantly rushing around ordering his people to shred this or hide that gives us a sense that he’s really a crook. Jasmine explains to Ginger and her new boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale) that her husband was arrested on multiple accounts of fraud and committed suicide in prison, after which the government seized anything and everything they owned.

Jasmine always turned a blind eye and played dumb while Hal did his shady business dealings and had multiple affairs with women right under her nose. She was always in the business of herself, and what social ladder she was climbing. After a nervous breakdown that put her in a hospital for a while, she’s now too unstable to be alone, hence her trek to San Francisco to live with her half-sister, with whom she hasn’t had the best of relationships. In another flashback, we see Ginger married to blue collar Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), who’d won a small fortune in the lottery. Hal stole all of Augie’s money and drove the couple to divorce.

Now, Jasmine is trying to pick up the pieces that she might never recover. She’s never without a drink in her hand or on the verge of another mental breakdown, what with Ginger’s two pre-teen boys running around, the hot-tempered Chili and his machismo friends, or the much smaller life Jasmine is forced to deal with. There is so much anger and pain in her eyes that she becomes desperate to get back on top again, as when a younger politician (Peter Sarsgaard) takes a liking to her. Things seem to go very well at first, but Jasmine foils her own destiny when she lies about her past.

‘Blue Jasmine’ has some rough moments. Each character is deeply flawed, with Jasmine always in the center of it. Her attempts to start from scratch by getting a job at a dentist’s office and taking night classes to become an interior designer don’t work out too well. The ending to this story won’t exactly leave you smiling and happy. However, it’s the correct choice, and I applaud Allen for sticking with it.

Baldwin plays the slimy investor to a tee. Bobby Cannavale is a funny meathead with charm and a bit of ferocity. Who in a million years would have thought that Woody Allen would cast Andrew Dice Clay in a film? But he did, and Clay is amazing in his role as a guy struggling to make ends meet. Hawkins also does a great job as the half-sister who puts up with Jasmine. Louis C.K. drops in for a bit to deliver some classic Woody Allen comedy. Michael Stuhlbarg has a fun cameo f as well.

It’s always with Blanchett that everything comes into place. You don’t even see the actress in this picture, but rather a character who has had every part of her life suddenly ripped apart. Her body language and tone of voice scream of pain and depression that she may never climb out of.

Allen has knocked it out of the park with ‘Blue Jasmine’. If you need one reason to see this movie, see it for Blanchett. She’s bound to win awards for this.

Rating: ★★★★½

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