Blue Jasmine, directed and written by Woody Allen, centers on Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), a wealthy New York Socialite, whose world is suddenly turned upside down when her successfully handsome husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) is arrested for suspected Bernie Madoff type scheming, and subsequently hangs himself in jail. Left with only the Hermes suit on her back and Louis Vuitton luggage, Jasmine seeks refuge in San Francisco and crashes with her free-spirited sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins).
Against the backdrop of a vibrant and liberal San Francisco, Jasmine struggles to cope with reality and attempts to reinvent herself, never fully learning from her past mistakes. She’s oblivious to the love and assistance her sister Ginger bestows on her, all while never deserving it. Jasmine thinks she is superior to her sister, her sister’s boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale), and her sister’s ex-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay). She believes her way out of her new poverty-stricken life is to glom onto another wealthy man, Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard), a diplomat with his eyes on public office. But this time, life isn’t so easy for Jasmine and she no longer gets what she wants.
Cate Blanchett’s performance in Blue Jasmine is remarkable. There is no doubt that come award season, you will hear her name be nominated for Best Actress. Blanchett’s past work speaks for itself and she always commits 100 hundred percent to the characters she plays. But this time, she chose the role of a unlikeable character. Jasmine is aloof, shallow, narcissistic, downright mean, and irredeemable. It’s a bitter pill for an audience to swallow. Watching a main character that has no good qualities to speak of can backfire. It can make sitting through a film feel like a painful and unpleasant experience. But Blanchett’s performance is so stellar, that one watches in awe instead. It’s almost as if the viewer is stunned that someone like Jasmine can exist and they can’t turn away. Despite all of Jasmine’s inferior personality traits, Blanchett is also able to evoke feelings of sympathy from the viewer. To play a character that is both hated and pitied, is the clear mark of a talented actress.
However, Blanchett’s performance, no matter how good, could not have been to the level it was without the directing and writing by Woody Allen. The reason this film worked so well is due to the synergy of acting, directing, and writing. Allen created this duality of Jasmine’s character when he wrote the screenplay. He then carried it further, when he gave artistic direction to Blanchett on how much he wanted Jasmine to be aloof, mean, and downright crazy. Allen has delivered on his last three films. Midnight in Paris, To Rome with Love, and Blue Jasmine have shown that Allen is on top of his game. So much so, that I’d blindly go see his next film, no matter what it’s about, as long as he’s attached to it.
Another thing that makes Blue Jasmine such a success is the ensemble cast. The characters are alive and each one commands the screen when they are featured. No matter if it’s the sleazy dentist, Dr. Flicker (Michael Stuhlbarg), who sexually harasses Jasmine, Jasmine’s sister Ginger’s bevy of men, from her one night stand Louis C.K. to volatile boyfriend Bobby Cannavale to bitter ex-husband Andrew Dice Clay, and Alec Baldwin, who plays the adulterous and money stealing Hal so smoothly, even you’d want to spend the weekend with him in the Hamptons, no questions asked.
Almost everything in Blue Jasmine works perfectly. That is except for the constant flashbacks to Jasmine’s life in New York, when she was on top of the world, still married to Hal, with millions of dollars, and too many vacation homes to count. I have no problem with the use of the two worlds to showcase Jasmine’s fall, and to clue the viewer in on what Jasmine’s life was like and why she is now so distraught. My issue lies with the way in which the flashbacks are used. Rather than tell the story in a linear fashion, Woody Allen chooses to jump back and forth between both worlds, which is jarring and throws the viewer out of the present-day world in San Francisco. It’s not until the very end that I understand why Allen chose to tell the story this way, but I’d still prefer if he used a purely linear approach.
Blue Jasmine is not a feel good farce like To Rome with Love or a whimsical film like Midnight in Paris. It’s closer in feel to Match Point, but that’s okay. Because it reminds us that Woody Allen can do dark and he can do it very well. His not so subtle take on a Bernie Madoff-type fall from grace also reminds us that he has something to say about social class. I couldn’t help but notice that he showed how a person like Jasmine, with hardly any redemptive qualities, can stay on the upper echelon of social strata while a person like Ginger, with so many amazing qualities, will always stay on the lower end of the social strata. No matter what these two women do, their life paths are set and it seems as though they are simply stuck. It may not be uplifting, but it’s unfortunately often true.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time Jasmine asks for a glass of vodka.
Take a Drink: every time Jasmine takes a Xanax.
Take a Shot: when you spot Ali Fedotowsky from The Bachelorette attempting to act.
Shogun a Beer: when Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard) gets his heart broken.