Since bursting into our cinematic consciousness in her breakthrough role as Elizabeth I, Cate Blanchett has become one of Hollywood’s most consistently brilliant actresses. A powerful screen presence, it only seemed appropriate that she picked up a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Katherine Hepburn, whose independence and energy Blanchett shares in abundance. Now with the lead in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine adding to an already enviable CV (the abominable Indiana Jones 4 notwithstanding), she’d be well advised to make room on the mantelpiece for the Academy Awards’ top honour.
Yes, it may only be September, but it’s already quite possible to declare a cut and dried winner for the Best Actress gong, given just how sensational Blanchett is here. As the titular Jasmine, a woman on the edge of both financial and mental ruin, she is frequently a pitiful site to behold, yet always utterly transfixing. Like the aftermath of spectacular car crash, or breaking news reports of an unfolding disaster, you simply cannot look away.
Blue Jasmine marks a departure from the whimsical comedy Allen has dabbled in recently and a move back into the realm of more substantial drama. Its similarity to A Streetcar Named Desire has already been noted and is not without justification. Both Allen’s film and Tennessee Williams’ play share the central character of an attractive yet alcoholic woman who arrives on her distant sister’s doorstep, having escaped a rapid fall from grace but not from her destructive delusions of grandeur and an infinite capacity for self-deception.
But if critics are looking for influences from the world of theatre, then it is also in part a Death of a Salesman for the 99 per cent generation. Having ascended from a humble background to find herself amongst the fantastically moneyed one-percenters of the Hamptons and privileged Manhattan, fraudulent dealings of the sort that triggered 2008’s global economic collapse force Jasmine back down to the social ladder and into the vastly less salubrious world that her sister inhabits in San Francisco. Haunted by flashbacks of her past, it becomes evident that these scenes have very much merged with Jasmine’s confused perception of the present, just like Salesman’s Willy Loman, leaving her babbling in public to no-one in particular.
The way in which Blanchett handles the duality of a character desperate to maintain outward decorum whilst breaking down internally is worth many awards in its own right. She is not the only outstanding performer on show however.
Sally Hawkins should expect several best supporting actress nominations for her turn as Jasmine’s working class sister, while Alec Baldwin is at his slimy best and Bobby Cannavale provides temendous comic relief as the Stanley Kowalski-esque character who’s not afraid to display his feminine side. And of course there’s Allen himself, deserving of much praise for drawing these performances from his cast. It will be interesting to see how audiences react to what is essentially a work of tragedy, rather than the charming fantasy of Midnight In Paris, but Blue Jasmine definitely sits very close to the pinnacle of Allen’s considerable narrative achievements.
Blue Jasmine is in cinemas now.