Living legend takes on legendary play

3SR: A Streetcar Named Desire comes to a glorious stop at Fisherman’s Wharf. Give everyone in this film an Oscar immediately.
Blue JasmineStarring: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Peter Sarsgaard, Sally Hawkins, Andrew Dice Clay.
Written and directed by Woody Allen.Comedy, drama. 1hr 38mins. M for offensive language.****

Two American classics collide in Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen’s modern take on the legendary Tennessee Williams’ play A Streetcar Named Desire – only Williams never made losing your mind and your dignity seem so charming.

Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), an uptight Park Lane New Yorker who has lost everything – which for her amounts to a status marriage and obscene fortune – arrives on the shabby San Francisco doorstep of her working class sister, Ginger, looking to “reinvent” herself in the wake of “disaster”.

Only, Jasmine’s pretensions to aloof dignity and poise are little more than a smoke screen for her unstable mental health and dependence on prescription drugs and “Stoli Martinis”.

As the sticky fingered, tantrum throwing truth of how Jasmine fell comes to light, her  “charming” facade starts to crumble and a tragic, if somewhat just, end to her self delusion seems inevitable.
Blue Jasmine is a deceptive little film. Hidden beneath Allen’s most beloved quirks and motifs – the swinging Jazz, crackling banter, neurotic humour and charming locations – is a grim comment on greed, arrogance and snobbery, as well as a final dig contemporary US society that might leave you a little cold.
And yet, Blue Jasmine is hilarious, as only Allen’s films can be; making us laugh at misfortune and desperation is Allen’s wheelhouse after all. But with Williams’ tragic play as inspiration it’s a bleak kind of humour, and Jasmine is too thoroughly pathetic and childish to ever really laugh with, let alone at.
It’s Ginger and her two men, boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale) and ex-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) – all injured by the fantasy life Jasmine creates for herself  –  that earn the lion’s share of our affection.
Blanchett, though, is utterly stunning as a Allen’s Uptown, pill popping version of Blanche DuBois, making the slide from desperate poise to unhinged trauma and back again look effortless and owning Allen’s trademark verbal patter like no-one since Diane Keaton. In a word, Oscar.
And while the jazzy soundtrack is a little jarring, often seeming incongruously upbeat at the grimmest moments, it helps to know that it’s the jazz of New Orleans, where Streetcar Named Desire was set, and that it is, essentially funeral music.  So, it makes perfect sense that the death of Jasmine’s illusions should be heralded by swinging trumpets and honky-tonk pianos.
Just as it makes perfect sense to shift the story from Nola to San Francisco – a city that still has street cars.

As ever, Allen has an unerring knack for making the settings of his films as intrinsic to the story as his cast. Blue Jasmine is no exception – San Francisco is golden here, as if in the brilliant light of sunny California Jasmine can no longer hide, even from herself.

In a way Blue Jasmine, Allen’s 45th film as director and 47th as writer, ends up feeling like the king of neurotic charm’s most self-aware film, a celebration of his quirks and foibles as a film maker, a jaunty slide along the sharpest edges of his favourite themes – and isn’t that just the most delightful irony, considering how wilfully, tragically and hilariously unself-aware its protagonist is?

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