If you suspect that I am about to give this Woody Allen film a rave review, you couldn't be more wrong. I have, over the years, written about how much I usually enjoy his movies, even when he is going through one of his frequent unfashionable periods. I admit that there have been one or two films in the last maybe twenty years that have proved the exception to the rule, but Allen can usually be relied upon to furnish a good time (at least for me).
Had I not been incapacitated last autumn when this movie was released, you can bet that I would have been off to the cinema to see it at the earliest opportunity -- but that was not to be. Subsequently the film has been so hyped, especially for Cate Blanchett's Oscar-winning lead, that I was hoping for something really special when I finally caught up with it this week. There is no denying that she gives a barn-storming performance as the psychologically fragile spoiled wife who is forced to come down in the world when her husband (Alec Baldwin) is arrested for financial fraud. As others have pointed out, the movie is a case of 'Woody does Streetcar Named Desire', as Blanchett's Jasmine (nee Jeanette) moves from her high-flown New York life-style to her non-biological sister's seedy San Francisco apartment. Sister Ginger is played gormlessly by Sally Hawkins -- an actress who usually manages to irritate me -- and her new boyfriend is the abrasive Bobby Cannavale. Ginger's ex (they both lost all of a lottery win care of Baldwin's devious tactics) is played, surprisingly straight, by ex-potty mouth comedian Andrew Dice Clay.
Allen adopts a flash-forward, flash-back structure to contrast Jasmine's previously spoiled life style with her penniless current position, but this becomes a little disconcerting after a while, since it is abundantly clear from the moment her first-class (!) flight lands in San Francisco, that we are dealing with a damaged, erratic, and irrational personality, one who is unable to adapt to the realities of her new life. We get the message, without the unnecessary rubbing in, that her way of life in the good old days in New York was supremely shallow and materialistic. She nourishes pipedreams about her potential future as a stylish interior decorator or fashion designer, without any firm game-plan or the necessary finance to achieve these goals. She thinks she has struck the mother-lode when she meets wealthy Peter Sarsgaard, who harbours political ambitions and who is looking for a trophy wife (which she appears on the surface); however the shallowness of his supposed 'love' is evident when he becomes aware of the many lies she has proffered to protect her false image. and drops her like the proverbial hot potato.
Hawkins, meanwhile, always subservient to Jasmine has been convinced to try to 'better' her prospects and starts an affair with a married liar, before realising that Cannavale is the 'one'. In the end, Jasmine packs up her designer suitcases and leaves for an uncertain future. There is no implied resolution to her problems -- in fact there is no ending whatsoever. The film just stops. The irony of course is that Jasmine is the author of her own sad situation, since it was she who shopped Baldwin to the FBI in a fit of pique over his infidelities, despite always claiming that she knew absolutely nothing at all about his business activities.
The problem with this film is, that despite Blanchett's bravura performance, there are no likeable characters, not even the hint of a Woody chuckle, and a drama that is both downbeat and depressing. This is not the kind of good time that I count on Allen to provide.