Review: Blue Jasmine


Woody Allen has said for years that he finds drama more substantial than comedy–he calls writing drama “eating at the adult’s table.” With his latest film, Blue Jasmine, he pays a homage to the tragedians of his admiration, most notably Tennessee Williams, for this film bears more than a passing resemblance to A Streetcar Named Desire.

Cate Blanchett, who played Blanche Dubois in Streetcar on Broadway, stars as Jasmine French (she changed the name for the more prosaic Jeannette). As the film opens, she has come, tail between her legs, to live with her comparatively dowdy sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), who is dating a brutish auto mechanic (Bobby Cannavale). As the film unfolds, we learn that Blanchett is at the end of her rope, flirting with madness. Her husband (Alec Baldwin), was a financier who has been busted for white-collar crime, a la Bernie Madoff. Part of his crime was to squander the fortune of Hawkins and her ex-husband (Andrew Dice Clay).

Blanchett, used to living a life of luxury on Park Avenue, the Hamptons, and San Tropez, bristles at Hawkins’ humble abode in San Francisco (at least the cost of living is still high). She is forced to take a job with a grabby dentist (Michael Stuhlbarg) and tries to get on with her life, but falls into a relationship with a would-be politician (Peter Sarsgaard), but this relationship is founded on the lies she finds it too easy to tell.

I found Blue Jasmine to be an excellent film, and unlike some of Allen’s other dramas, doesn’t stint on jokes. But perhaps I expected too much–it’s not that good. Certainly Blanchett is brilliant–her Jasmine is so real it’s kind of scary. The character is almost always on something, whether it’s vodka or Xanax, and Blanchett is able to convince us of her self-induced fogs just by her eyes and facial expressions. But it’s not showy–I never found her to be chewing the scenery, and always played the scene truthfully.

Perhaps what bothers me is that I never could get Allen’s point in contrasting Jasmine and Ginger’s lives. He pointedly makes them adopted, so they don’t share blood; their connection is not a randomness of biology but of civil action. Hawkins, like Stella Kowalski in Streetcar, is unfailing cheerful, but finally has enough of Blanchett’s snobbery, long after any audience member would have blown their top.

Allen, who I imagine doesn’t rub elbows with the common man much these days, even at Madison Square Garden during the Knick games, doesn’t mock Hawkins’ lifestyle, but uses it for easy gags. A long and otherwise funny scene with Blanchett, Hawkins, and Cannavale at a wharf-side restaurant gets a little weird when Cannavale brings a buddy along as a blind date for Blanchett. (he’s played deftly by Max Casella). Blanchett, thrust into the world of regular people, can hardly stand engaging in conversation as they suggest jobs for her. I felt Allen’s script tilted negatively toward the 99 percenters, as flashbacks to Blanchett’s life with Baldwin is painted as rosy as possible, even if it is built on sand.

Another scene is a flashback to when Hawkins and Clay visit Blanchett and Baldwin in New York (I’m as surprised as everyone by how good Clay is). Again, the jokes are good but easy, as the two rich people can hardly stand the relatives from Palookaville.

A sub-plot involving Hawkins’ affair with a sweet-mannered man (Louis C.K.) offers an interesting counterpoint to the main storyline. In a way, this thread is more heartbreaking, as Hawkins is a much more sympathetic figure.

I don’t want to be make it sound like I’m picking on this film–it’s very good, and has a lot of great moments. Allen enthusiasts will get a kick out of the name of Stuhlbarg’s character–he’s Dr. Flicker, the same name of the doctor in Annie Hall who tells young Alvy Singer not to be worried about the universe expanding. Hawkins is great, Baldwin is perfect–he’s sort of the go-to guy on rich cads these days–and Blanchett, though her character may be getting what she deserves, is luminous. I think she’s got to be the frontrunner right now to win Best Actress next Oscar ceremony.

My grade for Blue Jasmine: B+.


About Jackrabbit Slim

Location: Vegas, Baby! I’m much older than the other whippersnappers here, a baby boomer. I tend to be more snobbish about film, disdaining a lot of the multiplex fare for “cinema.” My favorite films: Woody Allen’s oeuvre (up until about 1990), The Godfather, The Graduate, A Hard Day’s Night, Pulp Fiction. Politics: Well, George McGovern was my political hero. I’m also a prickly atheist. Occupation: Poised to be an English teacher in Las Vegas. For many years I was an editor at Penthouse Magazine. My role on this blog seems to be writing lots of reviews and being the resident Oscar maven.

2 responses »

  1. I agree completely with you on Baldwin. He’s perfect for the role, and so good at it now. His character is just as strong when he’s not onscreen, when people are talking about him, when we see the repercussions of his actions, as we see the machinations when he is onscreen.
    And I disagree about the rosy world. It’s meant to be that, I believe. We’re seeing this through Jasmine’s eyes, through her ‘Carmela Soprano’ ignorance of the situation, seeing what you want, believing what you want to keep the world you want. I think the view we see of palookaville, too, is the view we’re meant to see through her. There are some really, really great shots in here, where Allen hangs on Blanchett much longer than is normally, the camera taking in every hint of the life behind her eyes, not breaking to reactions or what’s around, the camera moving through spaces like Blanchett’s viewpoint. This is the world through her eyes, completely, and what is real and what is in her head, and is this a trustworthy view at all, you know?
    For example, when Jasmine turns at the party to look for her sister, the next shot is an unbroken dialogue scene between her sister and Louie CK and it just struck me that we’re seeing what Jasmine is seeing, no reactions or anything to break the shot, and is this what Jasmine thinks she sees and hears, or not? Just a thought that struck me, because right after that, Jasmine meets a slick, smarmy guy, the man who could be a cousin of Baldwin. Did this happen? Is this all a delusion? Did she think her sister was hitting it off with someone, and so she has to one-up her, if even in her mind? Right before it all unfolds, she’s speaking to herself. A man asks her if she’s talking to him, and suddenly her friend appears. Her sister’s life falls apart, Augie just appears? It’s the exact kind of self-destruction a woman as troubled as her would inflict upon herself. The only things that we can trust are the phone call and the meeting with her son.
    I love the structure of this movie, the great editing, the deft handling of each of the two worlds, and how they mirror each other. This is like the spiritual predecessor to Lone Star, where flashbacks point to each flash forward until the stories and characters come together, all of it weaving into one fabric of linear storytelling. Really great editing and writing.
    Cate Blanchett is insufferably beautiful and simply an amazing actress.
    Great, great ending.
    Interesting point: Jasmine references ‘Blue Moon’, the very first thing she says, and it’s a running comment throughout the movie. The original title of the song is ‘The Bad in Every Man’, and the first verse ends with the line “Life was a bitter cup for the saddest of all men”. I couldn’t help but think of that lyric at the end of the movie. What’s widely known as one of the classic love songs began as quite a downer, and was made much nicer by the head of a studio who knew the song could be a hit. Kinda how Jasmine does all she can to make her life perfect, but it’s a bitter, bitter cup.

  2. Not a complete success, but pretty good overall and one of Allen’s better films over the past 20 years.

    The film lives or dies on the central character and I thought it was acted and depicted with precision and perception, especially how they cause destruction and despair (unintentionally or not) for those they come in contact with. It may be hard to fathom for some but people like this do really exist in the real world. That she remained largely compelling to follow is a tribute to both Allen and Blanchett.

    There are some misjudgements – I thought the whole section with the dentist was silly and could’ve easily been excised. And the scenes with Blanchett’s son were rather obvious and unnecessary as well

    As well, Allen’s unchanging film style is admirable in some ways but I think it holds him back and can be distracting at times. He’s always been a rather static director, largely reliant on how good his scripts are (often a wise move). And not much has changed here with scenes like when Clay is handing over the kids to Hawkins or Baldwin being arrested feel much more stilted than they should be because of how limply they’re directed.

    But overall it’s a pretty good film. Not just excellent work from Blanchett but Hawkins and Cannavale as well.

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