Cate Blanchett embodies a role of such tragedy and sadness that it’s hard to believe her character can still stand up straight in Woody Allen’s new drama “Blue Jasmine.” A disheveled, skilless woman, she plays Jasmine, a woman who has sunk to a new low after her husband’s (Alec Baldwin) real estate business turned out to be a complete fraud and when her son abandoned her immediately. He gambled away other people’s money, and even robbed Jasmine’s sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) of a large part of her money, obviously illustrating contention between the two. Desperate, Jasmine moves in with Ginger, who is currently dating grease monkey Chili (Bobby Cannavale) in her long line of “loser” boyfriends as put by her sister.
Now Jasmine must find footing and a stable leg to stand on after untold calamity her hard. It doesn’t help she is plagued by feelings of guilt, inferiority, and persistent panic attacks that seem to only be soothed mildly by drinking and drugging. Jasmine must come down to a more middle-class life after her lavishness from her husband’s money bought her every piece of jewelry, luxury, and piece of furnishing she could’ve wanted. Even in her sorrowful state she takes a first class plane ride to Ginger’s house because she doesn’t know how else to do things.
Thankfully, the movie isn’t about her coming down to a different class in life, or even her being a fish out of water. It’s about overcoming the past, but still falling prey to it. If there were any film to show that you can try and try to forget your past but still continuously be burdened by it, this is the film. Even as Jasmine meets a new guy, a wealthy, cleaned-up socialite she still can’t overcome what happened in the past and how her husband’s actions (and her implied knowledge of them by various people – Chili included) financially crippled many people’s lives.
Initially, it’s hard to believe this is Woody Allen, but the music choices, Windsor font, and locational appreciation make us convinced. Surprisingly, Allen doesn’t make Jasmine neurotic and jittery, as many of his other characters are. She is deeply troubled, far beyond a few little ticks of the mind. The approach he takes to such a fragile character is equally fragile, but we find ourselves laughing both with and at Jasmine. With her when she tries to shoo away a blind date organized by Ginger, and at her when she finds herself repeating the story of how her and her husband met and how the song “Blue Moon” played on that night. She even repeats it to Ginger’s children while they are being babysat by her.
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Blanchett largely carries the film and makes this a deeply upsetting but quietly brilliant character study, questioning whether you can return to your old roots if something seemingly irreparable took place. She simply sinks into her role of this troubled woman, as few other actresses could, and even when she is apparently down and out, brutally struck by every rough current in the water, she still accentuates beauty few others could. I’m keenly reminded of Jason Reitman’s “Young Adult,” which starred Charlize Theron, a woman who endured immense popularity and a high social-status when she was young but has fallen into a depression-like state as she climbs into her thirties. The only difference is in “Blue Jasmine” the lead character didn’t deserve her downfall; in “Young Adult,” Theron’s character deserved some sort of karmic revenge and got it.
The only thing that seems to be working against “Blue Jasmine” is its narrative, which is a bit jumbled to say the least. It consistently flashes back to the days when Jasmine and her husband were together, and tries to illustrate what went wrong in the marriage – from infidelity to romance – while trying to maintain cohesion in the present. It becomes a bit irregular and unfocused in some regards. In a more difficult, complex story it would’ve been a huge blow to the film’s continuity and flow. But seeing as the film works as a multi-layered drama, the way it is conducted narratively can be seen as a minor misstep or as a nice stylistic attribute. I can see it as both, as the constant weaving between past and present offers a delightful sense of mystery to an already intriguing story.
“Blue Jasmine” is an enticing character study, combining silent dark comedy with beautiful drama, and, at its core, an Oscar-worthy performance by Blanchett. After the somewhat underwhelming taste Allen’s “To Rome With Love” left in my mouth, I relished his prolific work ethic and simply thought, “he’ll make more” as I walked out. He has made another and it’s one of the strongest films of the year.
Reviewed by Steve Pulaski
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