Blue Jasmine is an exercise in great writing and pacing.
Watching Blue Jasmine was like a watching a train crash in slow motion. From the outset it is plain to see that the characters are inevitably going to end up crashing and burning, but still I could not look away; I had to see that train crash. The film is centred around Jasmine (played by Cate Blanchett), as she moves in with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), in San Francisco following her husband’s arrest and death. Over the course of the film, Jasmine attempts to put her life back together and have a fresh start, to varying degrees of success.
The writing is truly great in this film. Woody Allen has yet again written and directed a film with mundane characters that are hilarious simply for being mundane. Many lines had the audience in stitches simply because they were delivered in a completely unabashed manner, tongue placed firmly in cheek. That is not to say that the humour came only from the dialogue, however. Cate Blanchett is magnetic as Jasmine, an eccentric and unstable woman trying furiously to keep herself together as her life crumbles around her. Louis C.K. is hilariously hapless throughout his, albeit small, screen time. Alec Baldwin is also quite good, though it seemed like he plays a more serious version of his 30 Rock character, Jack Donaghy.
As I mentioned before, the film is set in San Francisco, and the city gets as much screen time as any of the characters. The cable cars and rolling hills, as well as the bay and Golden Gate Bridge, all get their due. This is also one of only two films shot in an American setting in the last nine years by Allen, who has written at least one movie every year since 1977, the year he released the critically lauded Annie Hall. Traditionally, Allen’s films have been set in New York, but as he has said over the last ten or so years, New York has become too expensive for him to make a film in. Whatever Works, from 2009, is the only movie he has shot there in ten years. In that context, the choice of San Francisco for Blue Jasmine makes sense. The city seems like a blend of his two cinematic phases; while it is a distinctly American city, it also has a very European feel, an aspect of the city that characters comment on occasionally. There is just as much of manic hustle-and-bustle of a city like New York, but it also seems to have a more luxurious, almost indulgent manner to it. Jasmine is very much a reflection of the city, despite her rather minimal experience with it.
The pacing of Blue Jasmine is plodding, to say the least. The movie is not that long, and the conclusion is fairly evident from an early point, but, boy, does it take its time. As things spiral out of control for Jasmine and Ginger, the wait can be agonizing at times, but I enjoyed every minute of it. Make no mistake, the pacing of the film is intentional. It is a testament to the strength of the writing and the acting that I came out exhausted by it, rather than tired of it.