I’ve never quite understood Woody Allen’s neurotically nerdy attraction that, as an actor, he carries with unmitigated success. His entire persona always felt too annoying for my taste, and because of that, I could never really appreciate his work as a writer and a director. But in recent years, as Allen has chosen to take a step back and present his stories without this distraction—basically allowing for others to represent his essence—I’ve been able to see what a true master he is at controlling a film and creating vivid, extremely flawed characters that are relatable even as they are incredibly frustrating. His newest film, Blue Jasmine is no exception.
Cate Blanchett plays Jasmine (or Janette, if we want to be precise), an expert aristocrat who loses everything when her husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), a well-to-do financier and investment broker, is arrested for fraud and money laundering. To cope with her new (and in her eyes, abhorrent) station in life, Jasmine moves in with Ginger (Sally Hawkins), her foster sister growing up, until she can get back on her feet. Most of the supporting cast find Jasmine extremely off-putting, and in some ways repugnant, as she spends most of her time drinking and scolding everyone around her for giving up on themselves to live the way they do. But who is it, really, that gave up on their life?
This type of character wouldn’t seem like someone you would want to watch or invest in for two two hours, but Cate Blanchett embeds Jasmine with such layered nuance that it’s easy to be captivated by her. Jasmine is a lost soul in many ways, the most apparent being the loss of her own sense of self. She is so enamored by the prospect of wealth and power, that she changes her name simply because her husband likes it better, and turns a blind eye to the world because she fears losing her stature. In a way, Allen has created a character to represent societal addiction, one whose drug is the entitlement lifestyle, and Blanchett blends this idea with a cynical wretchedness that authenticates the addiction to the point where you can see why someone like Ginger, who knows what Jasmine had to deal with as a child, would both love and loathe her at the same time. The same can’t be said for Ginger’s boyfriend, Chili (Bobby Cannavale), who sees right through Jasmine’s deceptive nature, knowing full well that if Jasmine hadn’t have lost her social standing, Ginger would still be a distant spot in Jasmine’s rear-view, not the family Jasmine deserves.
On top of it all, Jasmine has become a mess, constantly needing a drink (or a pill) to ease her nerves when she’s uncomfortable (which is quite often as she she tries to fit in to a world she so detests) and rambling to herself as if she were reliving lost moments from her past. Blanchett conveys this natural loss of mental stability with a careful touch of empathy. As we watch her slip further into withdrawal, we truly do want to help her to find happiness. But the only time she’s truly happy is when she meets Dwight (played with delightful charm by Peter Sarsgaard), whom she falls in love with only because he is a window back into her old habits. He becomes, in a way, her dealer, someone who can return her to that lavish lifestyle she thinks she needs, and there’s no amount of lies she’ll tell to those around her—but even more importantly, to herself—that will keep her from accessing that high.
Where I think the film falls a bit short is in the casting of some of the more minor characters (such as Andrew Dice Clay as Ginger’s ex-husband, who is nowhere near Blanchett or even Sarsgaard’s level) and in the way Allen structures the film, with subtle flashbacks that can be quite jarring in how they are edited into the main storyline. But once you accept the flow of the film and get used to the randomness of the flashbacks, the editing begins to represent Jasmine’s chaotic mind, which is actually quite effective. And though the ending is a bit abrupt (but nonetheless thought-provoking), Woody Allen, through his passionate eye for detail and complexity—and by letting others convey his soul—has officially made me a believer in his artistic merits. If he and Blanchett aren’t nominated come awards time, I will be incredibly shocked.
My Grade: A
Next week, new movies include Prisoners and Battle of the Year. If you would like to see a review of one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.