‘Blue Jasmine’ Review
It should be no surprise that Woody Allen, survivor of a protracted tabloid scandal, should make ‘Blue Jasmine.’ It’s a story of what happens after the headlines, about the emotional aftershocks of big, juicy news and how they affect unexpected people in unexpected ways. This isn’t a very funny movie, but its observational instincts are so bright that the scenes evoke laughter, even when the story is actually rather sad. It’s one of Allen’s best films in years and a silver-plated gift to Cate Blanchett who takes the character and runs with it.
We first meet Blanchett’s Jasmine en route to San Francisco, unloading her life’s story to the unfortunate woman beside her on the plane. She got swept off her feet before graduating college and was soon living with a multi-zillionaire investor on Park Avenue. She gave dinner parties and had a house in the Hamptons. And while she may still look like a million bucks, all she currently owns are the expensive clothes on her back (and the ones tucked into her matching Vuitton luggage.)
As will get teased out through flashbacks, her husband, an inscrutable Alec Baldwin, is a Bernie Madoff-type swindler. His ponzi schemes didn’t just ruin nameless sucker investors, but dashed the hopes of Jasmine’s sister (Sally Hawkins) and her husband (a surprisingly good Andrew “Dice” Clay.)
The sisters were never quite close (they are both adopted) but when Jasmine has no one left to turn to she takes refuge in Hawkins’ small, working class apartment. She’s got two kids, but she and the Diceman have busted up (the implication is that it was the lost investment that did it). Hawkins is dating a kind car repairman named Chili (Bobby Cannavale) but Jasmine, when she isn’t downing Stoli martinis or panicking about her future, is sure to remind her sister that Chili isn’t a man of substance. Despite Hawkins clearly having her feet on the ground much more than Blanchett, the continuous criticism eventually plants seeds.
‘Blue Jasmine’ is remarkable because it is equal parts sympathy and schadenfreude. Blanchett is a fish out of water – a one-percenter who doesn’t know how to use a computer and wouldn’t be caught dead wearing anything other than designer clothes. Now she’s in our world – the real world. It’s almost like watching Jeff Daniels’ Tom Baxter character from ‘The Purple Rose of Cairo’ enter Depression-era New Jersey.
It’s fun to snicker at Jasmine as she tries to function at her new job – a receptionist at a dentists’ office – but in time you feel sorry for her. She is at least partially the victim here, or at least the victim of lost time. She has pipe dreams of going back to school, but really has no clue what for. She allowed the allure of marrying rich to take her away from any sense of dependence and now she’s paying the worst price: sexual harassment from a lecherous dentist played by Michael Stuhlbarg.
There are a lot of cringeworthy moments in this film, all derived from the raging class warfare symbolized between the sisters. Were it not for a simple phone call, Jasmine’s life would not be destroyed and she’d still be the aspirational success model – a woman basking in luxury, taking time for the occasional charity event to assuage any guilt. After the fall, though, Jasmine is a shattered woman, one step away from irrevocable psychological devastation.
There’s no doubt Blanchett will be in contention for awards at the end of the year. (Hopefully Hawkins will be, too.) Her performance is, for lack of a better term, very “actorly.” A few years ago, Woody would have given the part to Judy Davis and, I suspect, she might have done a better job. Still, the film is worth catching for the acting alone, though there are a number of interesting themes at play. Without ruining the ending, there are different ways to interpret Hawkins’ ultimate decision with regard to her relationship with Cannavale.
There are some missteps, too. A subplot involving Peter Sarsgaard felt more like an excuse to lay out certain ideas rather than a realistic storyline. (I half expected that section to be just a dream sequence from Blanchett’s pill-addled mind.) Also, the movie relies an awful lot on coincidence – but by this point in his career most of Woody Allen’s films can be read as fables. Still, at age 77, Allen shows no sign of slowing down. ‘Blue Jasmine’ is a remarkable piece of work.