Review: Blue Jasmine
PLOT: A woman who used to have it all is forced to reevaluate her life after her husband has been sent to jail and she's relegated to asking her down-and-out sister for help.
REVIEW: BLUE JASMINE is Woody Allen's best film in a long, long time - maybe since 1992's HUSBANDS AND WIVES. Yes, I enjoyed MIDNIGHT IN PARIS and VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA a great deal, but neither has quite the impact of JASMINE's bittersweet blend of comedy and drama. Allen's best works (in my opinion, and this is all my opinion, naturally) are emotional roller-coasters, mirroring life's fluctuating high points and low points. Take a look at the greats like HANNAH AND HER SISTERS or CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS and you'll see an artist with a pitch-perfect ear for the way we're jerked around by our own impetuous natures and presumed destinies.
And, like the rest of Allen's best work, he's has orchestrated not just one but several great performances. Towering above them all is Cate Blanchett as the titular Jasmine, who embodies many of Allen's favorite neurotic-woman tendencies, but Blanchett takes the character one step further into a realm of tragic instability that is really amazing to watch. For an actress who always seems to be transforming herself in unpredictable ways, Blanchett shows us a new level of formidable talent with the sad and crazy Jasmine; she's a shoe-in for a plethora of year-end nominations and awards.
When we meet her, Jasmine is a frazzled mess; a once-wealthy socialite whose life has been ripped away thanks to a scandal involving her Bernie Madoff-like husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin at his lecherous best), and a subsequent breakdown. Fallen from grace in a publicly embarrassing way, Jasmine is forced to seek shelter with her equally troubled sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), whose life was also ruined thanks to Jasmine's husband's schemes: Jasmine encouraged Ginger and her then-husband Augie (Andrew "Dice" Clay, and yes, he's good) to invest with Hal, who unbeknownst to her was a crook and a cheat. The money disappeared, Ginger and Augie got divorced, and everyone has since crumbled into disarray.
Jasmine's attempts to put her life back together, and salvage what she can with her sister, is the crux of the story, as she slums it as a receptionist for a lewd dentist (Michael Stuhlbarg) and tries her hand at learning computers. She isn't able to find much serenity in her sister's house, however, thanks to two incredibly noisy kids and Ginger's omnipresent boyfriend, a well-intentioned knucklehead named Chili (Bobby Cannavale, also really good). Will a potential new romance with a wealthy, friendly diplomat (Peter Sarsgaard) free her from the shackles of blue collar normalcy? Should we actually hope for this?
Allen deftly uses a flashback structure while telling his tale, giving us the goods regarding the ins and outs of these people's complicated affairs. Just when we think we have Jasmine figured out as a snob, we peer into her backstory and view a fragile woman under the grip of an arrogant blowhard with cheating (of every form) on his mind. Our feelings toward Jasmine will lean toward sympathy, but then Allen allows her (and Blanchett) to give the character yet another shrewish quality that makes us dislike her again. Jasmine is puzzling, difficult, frustrating and impossible to figure out. That's thanks to a brilliant collaboration between writer-director and actress.
Allen still knows how to pen a three-dimensional character, that is as clear as ever, but the true gift BLUE JASMINE offers us is the opportunity to really soak up some tour de force acting. It can't be mentioned enough how strong Blanchett is, displaying a character equally frail and vociferous, wrapped up in a cloak of quirky madness. Indeed, a major question throughout the film is "just how crazy is she?" and it's a testament to Blanchett that we're always waiting to see if Jasmine is able to go just that one step further off the deep end... Almost her equal in every way is Hawkins as the goofy, decidedly low-brow Ginger; if Hawkins is not handed down innumerable plaudits for her turn, it's only because of how amazing Blanchett is. But this shouldn't be the case: both actresses are absolutely terrific, more than reason enough to give in to BLUE JASMINE's eccentric charms and stirring technique.