Blue Jasmine (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★
Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) moves to San Francisco to live with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), until she gets back on her feet. Jasmine is completely broke; her husband (Alec Baldwin), who had recently killed himself, was involved in fraud and they lost everything—the big mansion, the expensive cars, the bank accounts. Having been used to a life of privilege, the New Yorker must learn to live in a small apartment, earn her own money, and endure a sibling she never felt close to but is nice enough to take her in.
“Blue Jasmine,” written and directed by Woody Allen, is propelled by an electrifying performance by Blanchett. She is willing to try anything: allow herself to look ugly, create a most despicable character that—still—we hope will change or learn something throughout the course of the picture, and modulate the character’s broken mind as if she were living two realities. Just about every decision she makes to get us to feel closer to or feel repelled by Jasmine—often at the same time—is fresh so watching her perform is a delight.
It is easy to make fun of the character for hitting the ground hard. After all, she is not a very nice person. She talks about the responsibility of being rich and how it is important to be generous but her actions do not match what she preaches. When she was swimming in money, she treated her sister like they were not related. One of the scenes that got the most reaction out of me was when Ginger visited Manhattan. Giving Ginger material things—such a a ridiculously expensive Fendi bag—is easy for Jasmine, but giving Ginger some of her time—a tour around New York City, spending a birthday dinner together—is a lot harder for her. It is most ironic that this repugnant woman wants to be an anthropologist.
Hawkins’ Ginger provides a good foil for Jasmine. She is the nicer half—maybe too nice—and I found her likable, an energetic auntie that one looks forward to seeing during the holidays. Perhaps it is the point but I was frustrated with her at times. She is too much of a pushover, always yielding, never realizing she does not have to put up with any of her sister’s prolific neuroses. For once, I would liked to have seen her put Jasmine in her place. Interestingly, the the screenplay never goes in that direction.
“Blue Jasmine” has a few subplots which do not quite come together. The conflict between Jasmine and her stepson (Alden Ehrenreich) feels tacked on. There is a dramatic scene between them near the end but I was left more confused than impressed. Also, Ginger’s ex-husband (Andrew Dice Clay) is given big scenes but his background is not developed in such a way that enhances the otherwise good acting.
As usual, Allen excels in showing contrasts: Jasmine’s life in NYC versus SF, the extravagant interiors of the mansion versus a humble but homey apartment, the protagonist’s glistening face when everything seems to be going right versus her haggard look when everything is being burnt to ashes. The writer-director jumps back and forth between past and present so effortlessly that it never feels distracting. We are put inside Jasmine’s troubled psychology. She’s there but sometimes she’s not really there.