There’s no denying that Woody Allen, who continues to put out films with admirable frequency, occasionally misses the mark. While projects like the atmospheric Vicky Christina Barcelona and Midnight in Paris were acclaimed audience favorites, others like To Rome with Love and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger proved to be uneven and disappointing. Yet his status as one of the greatest living directors assures that there will always be a built-in audience eagerly awaiting his next release.
Luckily, Blue Jasmine can easily be added to the list of Allen’s best work. The alluring storyline is both tragically comedic and culturally relevant. Add to that Cate Blanchett’s captivating performance and you have a film that manages to be both poignant and absurdly funny.
Jasmine (Blanchett) is an out of touch member of upper class whose investment broker husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) has provided her with a life of luxury. He surprises her with pricey jewelry and says things like, “Is there anything you want that you don’t have?” The self-centered Jasmine is embarrassed by her grocery store clerk sister Ginger (a brilliant Sally Hawkins) and her “loser” husband (a perfectly cast Andrew Dice Clay). When the two come from San Francisco to visit her jaw-droppingly gorgeous New York apartment, she can barely tear herself from her yoga and Pilates to spend time with them.
But alas, the party ends abruptly for our heroine. As it turns out, Hal is a Madoff-like schemer. When the FBI puts him away and seizes all of the couple’s money and belongings, Jasmine is left flat broke. She is forced to stay with the now-divorced Ginger and (gasp!) take a job at a dentist’s office where she must wear scrubs. For Jasmine, this is a fate worse than death.
Allen effectively jumps from Jasmine’s current situation to her previously stress-free Park Avenue life. Whereas she was once trendy and perfectly together, she is now a Xanax popping mess. Blanchett is one of the few actresses out there who could generate sympathy for a character like this. This skill is particularly apparent when Jasmine looks back on the humiliation she’s experienced and begins talking to herself while onlookers stare in horror.
As is typical of Allen’s films, there’s an impressive and diverse supporting cast. Bobby Canaivale is hilarious Ginger’s emotional boyfriend while Louis C.K. has a small but pivotal role as her lover. Other standouts are Peter Sarsgaard, in an against-type role as a charming diplomat with political aspirations, and Alden Ehrenreich, who portrays Hal’s conflicted son.
Blue Jasmine is largely about class differences and gender roles – subjects that have factored into Allen’s work in the past. We see a woman who is essentially nothing without her wealthy husband. She has few skills outside of shopping for Birkin bags and throwing lavish dinner parties. She’s hidden behind Hal for much of her adult life and is unable function without him. She believes that a woman’s only chance at success is to marry well. Unfortunately, this viewpoint is still common. Thankfully, by contrast, Ginger has a far better understanding of the world and how compassion works.
Overall, the film serves as post-recession fable in which a member of high society gets what’s coming to her. We are able to watch an ignorant person atop the social pyramid crumble and get devoured by karma. Since that seldom happens in reality, it’s a treat to watch it play out on-screen.
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