In 1988, Woody Allen released Another Woman, a film about a woman whose delicately constructed world unravels as she learns that she is not well-liked by her family and friends. Twenty-five years later, Allen releases Blue Jasmine, where a similar character’s troubles have been amped up 100%. Gena Rowlands played a woman who alienated everyone around her with her judgmental arrogance. Cate Blanchett plays a woman who alienates herself from everyone around her by existing in denial.
Blue Jasmine tells the story of Jeanette Francis who adopts the name Jasmine, and is herself adopted improbably along with Ginger, her adopted sister, but of no blood relation. I say improbably, because these two are the definition of “different sides of the track;” Jasmine grows up to become a wealthy socialite, while Ginger (Judy Hawkins) grows up to become a hardscrabble working class single mom. The obvious differences between these two are pretty apparent, and it’s a little hard to swallow that their paths would be so divergent being raised within the same household. But more interestingly is the difference between these two in regards to how they deal with life’s blows. Ginger is much more of a streetwise pragmatist, dealing realistically with the knockdowns of life and love, whereas Jasmine is poorly suited to deal with anything as her bubble collapses around her.
The bubble that Jasmine has created is one consisting of material wealth, social connections, and objectivism as a trophy wife by her philandering real estate investor husband Hal, played smoothly by Alec Baldwin. Jasmine arrives on the doorstep of her sister’s San Francisco walkup after her husband is jailed for felony theft (in a “five minutes ago” nod to Bernie Madoff) and hangs himself in his prison cell. She lives in denial of her husband’s affairs and unethical business practices because, to put a fine point on it, it’s convenient. She’s the upper Eastside Carmella Soprano. It’s clear that Jasmine could never accept anything less than the best, as seen in flashback when Ginger and her one-time husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay, who, with this role and his role on Entourage, is more entertaining than his “Hickory Dickory Dock” standup ever was) visit Jasmine and Hal at their Hamptons home. Jasmine’s disdain for the two of them and what they apparently represent is palpable. And even when she imposes upon Ginger in her desperate, now bankrupt widowed state, Jasmine attempts to maintain that bubble, by harshly assessing Ginger’s life and her relationship with current boyfriend Chili (Bobby Canavale, who adds a little dash of Tennessee Williams by way of Stanley Kowalski to Jasmine’s Blanche).
From there, we view, sometimes cringe, at a woman who literally unravels onscreen. Cate Blanchett is so effective portraying a character who is wholly ill-equipped to deal with adversity, there were times I wanted to jump onscreen and put her out of her misery like a horse with a broken leg. Even when she is afforded modest to grand opportunities to regain the life she had, either fate or her own machinations sling her back down, as evidenced by her interaction with a socially awkward dentist (Boardwalk Empire’s Michael Stuhlbarg) and an affable statesman (Peter Sarsgaard). The movie alternates between the present and the past, where we learn how Jasmine arrived at her desperate present situation. I’m not usually a fan of the flashback within the present narrative, but it is done very effectively here. Actually, the flashbacks, to a certain degree, provide relief from the misery of Jasmine’s situation in the present narrative.
There are a few of the Allen tropes here; of course, the character of Jasmine allows us to be privy to the lifestyles of the upper crust Manhattan set, a familiar setting in much of Allen’s work. Ginger, Augie, Chili, and a too-briefly onscreen Louis C.K. provide the typical Allen love triangles, but thankfully, it’s much less farcical here. As with many of his films in the recent past, all is awash in a light sepia and I suspect that, like all his film titles and credits, Allen’s tombstone will be scripted with a Windsor Light Condensed typeface. He also returns for portions of the film, to his New York home. After setting his last few films in London, Barcelona, Paris and Rome, I was beginning to wonder if Allen was knocking out a film each year while on vacation.
All the cast are pitch-perfect, but make no mistake about it: this movie belongs squarely to Cate Blanchett. As the movie starts, I was made to feel like I was watching just another neurotic stand-in for Woody, but she quickly dispelled that assessment. Her performance is so convincing, I literally found it difficult to watch her onscreen as she descended into near-madness. I care nothing for Oscar buzz or predictions, but there’s no way she goes unnoticed by the Academy. This is such a well written, well directed and well acted film that, between Woody and Cate, I don’t know who should be more appreciative of the other. 4/5 reels