Woody Allen has always been sort of hit-or-miss, but when you put out a feature film every single year for thirty-five years running you’re going to rack up a lot of hits. Still, his output has seemed a bit lackluster in recent years. Blue Jasmine comes, then, as a welcome improvement, and it’s almost all due to the fantastic performance by Cate Blanchett.
As usual, Allen has assembled a marvelous cast, but this is not really an ensemble piece. Rather, it’s a character sketch of a woman whose life has fallen apart. Jasmine (Blanchett) was married to wealthy financier Hal (Alec Baldwin), who turns out to have been a bit of a shady dealer. Maybe he wasn’t quite in the realm of Bernie Madoff, but when he went down the fortune — and Jasmine’s society lifestyle — went with him.
So Jasmine has fled New York and landed with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), in San Francisco. Ginger lives with her two sons in a modest apartment in a working class neighborhood, much different from the estates in the Hamptons Jasmin is used to. Ginger could probably have been doing better, but she and her ex-contractor husband, Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), lost all their savings in Hal’s scheme. It doesn’t seem to bother Jasmine, though; she never approved of Augie, and doesn’t like Ginger’s new boyfriend, Chili (Bobby Cannavale), much either. And besides, she’s more concerned with her own losses.
Jasmine is a profoundly selfish person, and profoundly self-mediated as well. She has a number of well-rehearsed lines and stories she used to construct an image of herself — “Jasmine” itself is her own replacement for “Jeanette” — and in the wake of Hal’s collapse they’re all she has to hold onto, so they get pulled out regardless of whether they fit the situation or not. And, being so focused on herself, Jasmine’s entire life is reduced to rehashing what she’s lost, and what she hopes to regain.
In fact the story is composed in large part of flashbacks from San Francisco to Jasmine’s old life, many of which turn out to be her own, vaguely coherent ramblings. Jasmine is so convinced that her own life is so fascinating that she will tell whatever story she’s thinking of to whichever poor soul happens to be around. And if no one is, well, she’ll just talk to herself.
We get a lot about Jasmine in New York and Jasmine in San Francisco — and Blanchett portrays them each distinctly — but Allen is vague about before and between. Did Jasmine always have a Potemkin personality? This could have helped her fit in better with her adoptive mother than Ginger did, and then into New York society, but would leave her foundering when she had neither parents nor wealthy husband to support her. Or was she a “normally” self-interested one-hundredth-of-one-percenter who snapped from the shock of the bottom falling out, becoming a hollow shell of her former self? Does that sort of lifestyle enable broken people to pretend they’re whole? or does it render everyone fragile, ready to break when something goes wrong? I don’t know what Allen means to say.
Blanchett is excellent at showing us these two parts of Jasmine’s life, but Allen’s script fails to draw any continuous arc through the separate points. Go see her performance, but don’t expect him to be anywhere near his top form.
Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: pass.