An impeccably-crafted, beautifully-acted film about greed, deception and love, Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine finds the director in fine form indeed. The picture has some of its roots in the financial crisis and in stories of people like Bernie Madoff, whose penchant for theft and criminality apparently went unnoticed by his wife.
On Allen’s stage, however, the drama is more domestic and less broad. His is a story of slightly smaller but no less important things, of love and family and the things that separate the relationships we want from the relationships we have. Populated by brilliant characters and an excellent sense of melodrama, this is one of his best films in years.
Cate Blanchett stars as Jasmine, the former wife of Hal Francis (Alec Baldwin). When the audience first meets her, her life is in shambles. Hal’s crooked business dealings put him in prison, where he eventually meets his end, and Jasmine is on her own. She moves in with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) to get back on her feet.
Unfortunately for Jasmine, life with Ginger and Ginger’s boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale) is less than up to her loftier standards. She begins to fray around the edges, to put it kindly, and her mental state deteriorates further. She attempts a run at a job and a college course in computers in order to study interior design online, but these avenues lead her to further despair.
Blanchett’s portrayal of Jasmine is stupendous. Her character is complex in her elegance and helplessness. She would be almost likeable if she wasn’t so insistent on deceiving others in her arrogance. Allen wisely doesn’t force the audience to root for her; he instead allows us to observe her attempts at piecing things together and we draw our own conclusions.
In the midst of Jasmine’s personal journey is the unavoidable broader context of what pundits might call “class warfare.” That Ginger is initially married to Andrew Dice Clay’s Augie, a working class stiff who lost all his money to Hal in an investment scam, is no accident. The comic is the ideal Brooklyn character and he is terrific in the role.
Louis C.K. also populates the world of Blue Jasmine with more working class edge. His character sweetly dates Ginger (until what seems like an inevitable revelation for this tale of woe) and is an “audio engineer.” Juxtapose his character against the hopeful romantic interest of Jasmine, another wealthy society type (Peter Sarsgaard), and the picture of class distinction emerges.
But what Allen does with the picture is compelling. He narrows the lens and focuses on the sisters. Ginger and Jasmine were adopted and came together from different families, which is a key element in their separation and togetherness. They are literally from dissimilar stock, which has Ginger tiptoeing around an inferiority complex and Jasmine constantly looking down on her sister’s realm.
This is really the enthralling point for the character of Jasmine. She is crushed by loneliness and wants to be heard. She, in one of the movie’s best scenes, talks at Ginger’s kids while babysitting and runs down her sad tale. She talks to a woman on a plane who accidentally engages her in conversation. But best of all, she talks to herself constantly.
Is she mentally ill? Perhaps. Jasmine takes Xanax with vodka constantly, which makes sense given the quality of her friends and relationships. She suffers anxiety and panic attacks, but her defensive mechanisms are so amped up that she never lets anyone inside her world long enough.
Allen’s view of things is positively cynical, as they should be in these times, and there is little that is cheery about Blue Jasmine. There are many comic moments, but these come coated in a sense of despair and sadness. Things go wrong, constantly, and the tide of what could best be termed justice takes on a personal slant.
Jasmine is a victim in her way, but she also victimizes after the truth is revealed about her husband. She passes down her haughty expectations to others, holds others to her standards and insists that the world comports with her view. She does this to the point of deceiving someone who really could care about her, thus ruining her chances yet again.
Blue Jasmine is a wonderful motion picture. It is Allen in his glory. It is filled with sharp observations and remarkable characters. It boasts a phenomenal set of performances, especially from Blanchett, and should rank as one of the best movies of 2013.