Starring: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins, Peter Sarsgaard
CINEMA goers fall into two categories: the stoics who maintain a dignified silence while twitching internally at the gory/scary/tear-jerk moments, and the screechers who just can’t help but let loose their emotions at full volume when something exciting happens on screen, as if unaware they are sitting in a public place. I used to have one friend in the latter group who would suddenly screech, “Oh my God, nooo!” and dig her fingernails into my forearm at an exciting moment in the action, blissfully unaware of the strange looks she was attracting from the people around us.
In general, I would put most of the Regal Picturehouse punters in the stoic group, but last Sunday night Screen One was brimful of screechers. Every “cringe” moment of this latest Woody Allen film (and believe me, there were lots) drew audible gasps of disbelief and horror from the audience.
There was a time, some decades ago, when the overwhelming reaction to an Allen film was laughter. But over the years the master film-maker has moved from silliness to self-deprecating black comedy, and with the transition to the other side of the camera his work has become less comic and just more, well, black. There are plenty of laughs in Blue Jasmine, but the overriding emotion one feels at watching Cate Blanchett as she continually presses the self-destruct button is sadness.
Blanchett plays Jasmine, a washed-up and cold-hearted New York socialite who arrives in San Francisco to live with her half-sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Once she was feted as the hostess who gave the best dinner parties in Manhattan, but her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) has been exposed as a conman and fraud, and she’s lost everything, including her stepson and her dignity. The details of her back story are played out in a series of flashbacks, while in real time we witness her despair at being pitched head-first into working-class life and living conditions, a life she is hopelessly ill-equipped to deal with.
It has been said that this is Woody Allen’s cruellest film and that there are shades of Mia Farrow in the protagonist. Whether that’s true or not, it’s a brilliant character study, and Blanchett puts in a stunning performance as a deluded, pill-popping and unpredictable woman on the edge of madness. At 77, Woody Allen has still got it.