Stripped from her debonair Park Avenue mansion, Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) relocates to San Francisco. The flight to her sister’s homey apartment doesn’t raise much of an eyebrow. Is Jasmine a bit self-indulgent? Sure, but so are a lot of characters in Woody Allen’s films. So Jasmine’s hyperactive socializing with the woman sitting next to her on a flight doesn’t strike much concern. Nor does her critique of her sister Ginger’s (Sally Hawkins) apartment seem all too out of the ordinary for what the audience assumes to be a narcissist. But as Allen pulls the pieces of Jasmine’s fragmented life for the audience to see, we witness one of the writer/director’s most accomplished character studies – a psychological deconstruction of a woman stripped of agency with only a flickering light of sanity guiding her way.
The easy potshot against Blue Jasmine is that it is a derivative class-conscious exercise that relishes in the comic differences between the social elite and poor. Allen takes his shots but is also very careful about how he’s illustrating this in relation to the damaged psyche of his lead character. Forced to fend for herself for the first time since college, Jasmine’s membership to the 1% hinged solely on her husband (Alec Baldwin) and his shady Madoff-esque business practices.
Given that Jasmine never worked a day in her life, the whole film could have been comic fodder for Allen to exploit the downfall of opulence. Instead, Allen acknowledges Jasmine’s sense of entitlement but is acutely aware of the pangs complacency. As Jasmine strives to pick herself up and attempt to rebuild her life following her husband’s incarceration, Allen juxtaposes Ginger’s contentment with lower-class living as a potential alternative. The whole matter is complicated when Ginger herself tires of the degradation of her sister and reconsiders her own options.
Ginger, unlike Jasmine, has developed an identity. And as Jasmine’s efforts at self-sufficiency take a hit (as the result of a catastrophic short-term employment period at a dentist’s office), she finds herself with another man of considerable wealth and class. Succeeding in capturing the attention of another man of groomed elegance, Jasmine aims to deconstruct Ginger’s failed ambitions as a result of her poor taste in men. Ginger’s trajectory gets compromised as, in spite of her self-sufficiency as a mother and provider, she begins to mirror Jasmine’s own sense of entitlement. Jasmine’s destructive and toxic worldview veers Ginger off course, jeopardizing the comfort of her current relationship with a grease monkey.
The various relationships contribute to a layered yet simple film – though it’s Allen’s cross-cutting that gives Blue Jasmine considerable heft. The film has a brutal honesty as a result of its sharp and jarring shifts in time and space. And unlike some of Allen’s more recent films, his writing is highlighted (along the film’s incredible ensemble performances) as a result of the absent tourist focus.
His recent slew of travelogues have been something of a mixed bag but by removing the foreign component it allows Allen to focus primarily on the social and psychological forces that motivate his characters.
When reviewing Midnight in Paris two years ago, the adjective of choice was delightful. The same cannot be applied to Blue Jasmine. It ranks as Allen’s darkest and most damning films since 1989’s Crimes and Misdemeanors – it’s also of comparable worth. The film leaves many lingering questions, particularly as a result of its back-and-forth narrative structure.
Those questions, along with the film’s bleak conclusion, may provide Blue Jasmine with an arbitrary sense of depth. But the broken fragments that compromise this film serve as an ideal embodiment of the characters it represents. While not Allen’s best film, Blue Jasmine is his most flawless in about twenty years.
Review by Daniel Nava
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