Best Actress: Cate Blanchett
Best Supporting Actress: Sally Hawkins
Best Original Screenplay: Woody Allen
You’ll never hear the song “Blue Moon” the same way again. We first meet Jasmine on an airplane flying into San Francisco. She is in deep conversation with her seat mate. A close friend, we might assume, from the way that she’s talking to her, though the woman seems to be a bit too old to actually be a confidant of Jasmine. We soon realize that Jasmine has entered into conversation with her seat mate after muttering to herself on the plane. “She just wouldn’t stop talking!” the woman exclaims to her husband at baggage claim.
Most of her money and possessions surrendered to the government as the result of her thieving husband Hal’s financial crimes (played with predictable sliminess by Alec Baldwin), Jasmine’s move to San Francisco is out of necessity so she can live with her sister Ginger (adopted). Ginger resides in what is apparently meant to be a downscale apartment, which clearly creates a new sense of claustrophobia and anxiety for Jasmine. Though I appreciate the attempt to script the apartment as such, it can’t hide an undeniable Woody Allen charm and coloring present in so many of his “off the beaten path” venues.
Blue Jasmine is a treatise on the perils of extravagance and delusions of grandeur that come with it, filled with bottles of Xantax, stoli martinis with a lemon twist, and the perspiration filled panic attacks I can only presume are all too common in the life of a high strung Manhattan socialite. It tells the story of a woman whose too-good-to-be-true life has slipped through her fingers through what is apparently no fault of her own. She now spends her days staving off panic attacks and having flashbacks to her life in New York (which we are privy to). These often lead to episodes where she talks to herself…to no one… to someone only in her mind… as she wanders the streets of San Francisco.
Blue Jasmine perhaps doesn’t have the most original plot, but then again, that’s not really the point. Determined to “make something of herself” after settling in at Ginger’s apartment, Jasmine finds work at a dentist’s office and in her spare time takes computer classes so she can learn how to manage one to obtain an online degree in interior design. If that sentence sounds absurd, believe me, the idea behind it is even more so. Only a woman so wrapped up in her own delusions could believe such a “plan” could work. Even so, work in the dentist’s office is only temporary, and naturally beneath her.
Though I had much difficulty doing so otherwise, there is one particular moment at the dentist’s office we are able to feel sorry for Jasmine. Her employer Dr. Flicker (Michael Stuhlbarg), played with the kind of sleaziness you might imagine from a smooth operating uncle who is always just a little too close for comfort, can’t take no for an answer. When Jasmine shoves him away and tells him she is never coming back, we don’t and shouldn’t blame her for one second. Dr. Flicker, though seemingly harmless, represents a man who thinks he can take what he wants when he wants it. The result is sickening and gives us pause.
Jasmine, for her part, galavants around Ginger’s apartment as if she is royalty, constantly asking her children and guests to be quiet. She demeans Ginger’s choices in work and men because it is clearly the only thing that makes Jasmine feel good about herself. Ginger, for her part, puts up with it, though we are never entirely sure why. Jasmine eventually meets a wealthy state department employee at a party, a meeting that sparks into a new romance and potential marriage. At first blush this seemed a rather trite decision by Woody Allen. But of course, Woody Allen is predictable in the most unpredictable of ways.
For much of Blue Jasmine you almost forget you are watching a Woody Allen film. Even the french jazz oozing from the pores of this movie seems to be meant to deliberately illuminate the dystopia he creates. Written differently, Blue Jasmine could have been a classic redemption story. Instead, it presents itself as one of Woody Allen’s more disarming works, though it has necessary moments of comic relief. But even these moments are filled with a dark, sardonic tone.
Perhaps what Jasmine does best is get us to believe that people in her situation truly feel victimized. “I mean, could you imagine? I was so embarrassed!” she says upon recalling a time when an old friend runs into her in a Manhattan store where she has been forced to size and sell shoes to make ends meet. It’s as if she cannot imagine a worse plight in the world than being embarrassed in front of people who are supposedly her “friends.”
Actually, I am almost certain she cannot.
This is a movie, of course, that is all about the performances. Cate Blanchett is deliciously despicable and delusional as Jasmine. She literally crumples before our eyes on screen as she fights to keep the smooth veneer of an exterior whose cracks keep getting bigger and bigger. She glides easily between the world of the poised millionaire’s wife to the anxiety and sweat filled existence of her new life in San Francisco, so easily, in fact, you might wonder if Jasmine might suffer from some form of schizophrenia. Sally Hawkins’ Ginger is a foil for Jasmine, yes, and though she may not have the best job or the most respectable man, Ginger is somewhat content. And Hawkins plays her with the sort of sweet innocence and forgiveness we might expect from someone who isn’t used to having everything, or anything, really. And if money, indulgence, and high social standing does to everyone what it does to Jasmine, then I don’t want one drop of it.
Finally, Allen is right to withhold evidence of what really led to Hal’s financial disgrace and Jasmine’s fall from upper class royalty. And when you find out why, you’ll have a hard time knowing what to really think about Jasmine. And it makes this movie just a delight… a sick, twisted, and delusional delight.
Available to rent on iTunes for 4.99.