A Streetcar Named Delirium
If Jennifer Lawrence’s emphatic turn in David O. Russell’s dysfunctional romantic comedy Silver Linings Playbook was the strongest female performance last year, then 2013 firmly belongs to a mesmerising Cate Blanchett in a similarly complex role. Woody Allen’s modern revision of A Streetcar Named Desire is driven by Cate’s Blanche-esque performance and combines heavyweight tragedy with the director’s trademark humour to deliver his finest film in a long time.
Blue Jasmine follows the tragic tale of Jasmine French, a once affluent socialite who hits rock bottom after her Wall Street wizard of a husband is arrested and her assets are liquidated. Homeless, poor and suffering from a nervous breakdown, she is forced to move to San Francisco and live with her kind-hearted sister Ginger who lives a modest life in a tiny apartment.
Allen’s forty-fourth feature draws many parallels with Tennessee Williams’ iconic stageplay, including a basic plot outline in which Ginger and her blue-collar boyfriend Chili appear as modern day visions of Stella and Stanley alongside Jasmine’s mirror image of Blanche. This Streetcar-like triangular conflict forms a large part of the film’s structure and prompts profound performances, but remains subordinated by Jasmine’s descent from luxury to squalor; and its here that Allen showcases his daring originality. Renowned for his representation of cities, Allen employs San Francisco and New York as signifiers in his clever juxtaposition of past and present events to reflect Jasmine’s unstable mental state. This non chronology is initially jarring, but soon forms a dramatic arc that resonates far more intensely than a straightforward narrative could allow.
As a neurotic woman who harbours ambitions for a pleasant and stable future, yet unwilling to forget the past that torments her, Jasmine is an extraordinarily complex character, but is captured perfectly by Blanchett. In a career best performance she portrays a polarising combination of strength and vulnerability to bring sympathy to a self absorbed, judgemental and altogether reprehensible character. Allen’s potent dialogue fuels Blanchett’s hysterical outbursts, but it’s her tics, twitches and general gauntness that results in such a frighteningly realistic, but fascinating exploration of depression and anxiety.
Although Blanchett remains centre stage throughout, Allen provides ample room for his strong support cast to shine through. Charming performances from Alec Baldwin, Peter Sarsgaard and Andrew Dice Clay are complemented by delightfully comic appearances from Louis C.K., Michael Stuhlbarg and Max Casella. Despite the strength that surrounds them, a sympathetic Sally Hawkins and a fiercely amusing Bobby Cannavale, as Ginger and Chili, dominate the support cast as the perfect counterpoint to Blanchett’s turbulent Jasmine.
Woody Allen’s bold ambition to create at least one film per year has sadly resulted in a succession of rather forgettable creations, but in Blue Jasmine, his compelling, performance dominated study of a vulnerable woman standing amidst the ruins of her former glory, he has created a resounding masterpiece.