- Movie Rating -

Blue Jasmine (2013)

| August 23, 2013 | 0 Comments

If Woody Allen had written “A Streetcar Named Desire,” it might look something like “Blue Jasmine.”  His heroine Jasmine Francis, like Blanche DuBois, is a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  Once, her life sparkled with money and luxury.  Now, it’s all gone, and what is left is an empty woman trying to get on her feet.  Also, like Blanch, Jasmine is coming part at the seams.

“Blue Jasmine” is Woody Allen’s first drama since 2005’s “Match Point,” and while it isn’t as sharp as that film, it does have Cate Blanchett’s single best performance since she won the Oscar for “The Aviator” almost a decade ago.  Blanchett has always been an actress who projects a measure of confident cool.  Yet, here we see a different side.  Jasmine is woman coming unglued.  She is fidgety and nervous, a pill popper who spaces out and talks to herself in public.  She’s neurotic, and we sense that she is on her way to a psychological meltdown of epic proportions.  We learn that she has already had a nervous breakdown and we can see that she’s ready for a repeat performance.

Allen’s narrative helps us understand how Jasmine got that way.  He shows us her current situation and then periodically uses flashbacks to show us how she got there.  We meet her currently as she is moving from The Big Apple to San Francisco to live with her adopted sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins).  The story then moves back a few years to show us the life that has led her to her sister’s door.  Once, Jasmine was happily married to Hal (Alec Baldwin) a Wall Street tycoon who padded their financial future with assets that the FBI didn’t know about.  When he got caught, the house and all the money were seized and Jasmine was left penniless.  The fact that her social status was her entire life has left her with few friends and even fewer relatives to depend on.

Spaced away from all that she once knew, Jasmine is a stranger in a strange land.  Transported from her comfortable high-society New York nest, she now finds herself in middle-class California, surrounded by people she can’t relate to.  They don’t pull any punches, especially Ginger’s big-hearted boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale) who sees right through her upper-class nonsense.  She’s out of her element and too self-centered to realize that her whole life with Hal was a sham, a Good-Housekeeping fever dream that was all frosting and no cake.  Now, out in the world, she has no survival skills.  She must get a job for the first time, and she lands a job as a receptionist at a dentist’s office while taking an online course to be an interior decorator.

What is interesting about Jasmine is that she can’t see the forest for the trees.  She’s on a sinking ship.  She has a hard time relating to anyone, due to the fact that almost all of her old acquaintances are people who were burned by her husband’s financial crimes – not the least of which is Ginger’s ex-husband Augi (Andrew Dice Clay), a nice sensible Joe whose dreams of opening his own business went down the drain when Hal went up the river.

Twice, a solution to Jasmine’s rut presents itself.  Once, with and overly friendly dentist (Michael Stulberg) and then with a smooth-talking diplomat (Peter Sarsgaard) that she briefly has a romance with.  With Dwight, she has an opportunity for happiness, but she makes a critical error finds herself right back where she started. By contrast, her sister seems to be having just as many romantic problems but seems better equipped to handle them.

What Allen is really doing with this story is trying to break open the illusion of privilege.  He casts one of high society’s members into the middle class in order to see how she fares – a queen pulled from her throne to mingle with the subjects.  We see the consequences of the bonds and the distances that Jasmine has created for herself and how they respond when she needs them the most (note how she handles a tense reunion with Hal’s son).

All of this is mounted on Cate Blanchett’s brilliant performance.  She isn’t afraid to look like a jerk.  We can’t help but feel for Jasmine but we understand that she is writhing in a nest that she has created on her own.  The more she attempts to reclaim her status, the more she watches it crumble to the ground.

It’s odd and refreshing that Woody Allen, now 77, is still one of the sharpest writer-directors that we have right now.  In Jasmine Francis, he has fashioned a modern-day Blanche DuBois, a woman who has always depended on the kindness of strangers, but needs Xanax just to get through the day.


About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2013) View IMDB Filed in: Drama