Sister act

Director Woody Allen is back on form, writes Aubrey Malone

Blue Jasmine (15A)

Woody Allen has been mining the motherlode of urban angst for almost half a century now. Here his tragi-comic penchant for intellectual navelgazing takes a new direction as he pits the divergent fates of two adoptive siblings against one another against the backdrop of a series of dysfunctional relationships with the men in their lives.

Cate Blanchett is superlative as Jasmine, an insecure lady reminiscent of the Blanche du Bois of A Streetcar Named Desire in the manner in which she tries to exorcise the demons of her past by quasi-therapetutic pep talks and a Pollyanna-style optimism about the future. As her more kooky step-sister Ginger, Sally Hawkins treads a more bohemian route.

Jasmine’s two-timing husband Hal (Alec Baldwin in familiarly oily guise) relieves Hawkins and her Stanley Kowaksi style partner Augie (Andrew Clay) of a lucrative lottery win when they invest it in one of his dodgy property scams. The increasingly desperate Jasmine then takes up with a politician (Peter Sarsgaard) who looks for all the world like the answer to all her dreams.

The contrasting fortunes of this colourful cast is captured by writer-director Allen in a series of flashbacks that skew the narrative in a frequently confusing manner but the script is so laced with inimitable one-liners the unorthodox time-frame is eminently forgiveable. Maybe not so forgivable is the predominance of New York accents in San Francisco, where the film is set.

It’s Blanchet’s film by a mile. She’s in almost every scene and goes through 'the whole nine yards' of emotions as the film progresses, in addition to every form of denial possible as she approaches psychic meltdown. Ginger, meanwhile, just busies herself having fun with whoever is around.

As a piquant satire on the quirky fates of the chattering classes this may not quite cut it with Allen’s previous gems but it’s way superior to some of the misfires he’s been serving up in recent years.

By now one has almost come to expect his cast members to speak with his own emphases and neuroses – and they do here as well – but he’s been given a broader canvas to work with in the present movie, as well as a bigger budget than usual, and an endearing jazz/blues score.

The result is an audio-visual smorgasbord of dysfunctionality that will make you both laugh and cry by turns as he fixes his laser gaze on the vacuousness of the cocktail party set and a raft of love-hungry souls conducting themselves with hilarious bursts of eccentricity.

Rating: ****