Written & Directed by Woody Allen
Cast: Cate Blanchett as Jasmine, Sally Hawkins as Ginger, Alec Baldwin as Hal, Peter Sarsgaard as Dwight
Cate Blanchett (Elisabeth, Veronica Guerin, Hanna, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, I’m Not There, The Lord of the Rings trilogy) has previously won an Oscar for her portrayal of Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator. Buzz is already building for her second, and it’s well deserved. She carries the entire film and lifts it above the limitations of the material.
Woody Allen’s 44th movie seems partly inspired by the classic A Streetcar Named Desire, with Blanchett as a surrogate for Blanche DuBois, Sally Hawkins as a Stella-type, two stand-ins for the brutish Stanley Kowalski, played by Andrew Dice Clay and Bobby Cannavale, and Peter Sarsgaard in the Mitch role. The same issues of class and social inequality play out in the background of both stories. This film doesn’t approach the power of ‘Streetcar’, but it tries.
The Plot: Janette (Blanchett)—who changes her name to the more exotic Jasmine—was once married to the smooth, wealthy Hal (Alec Baldwin), who spoiled her so much that she willfully turned a blind eye to his womanizing and his Bernie Madoff-like lack of business ethics. After Hal’s arrest and suicide, she lost her big house and everything else. She found herself broke and homeless, and suffered a mental break down. After her release, she is forced to move in with her adopted sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) who is a struggling single mother with two kids, living in a small apartment on a cashier’s salary. Jasmine barely hides her disdain for her newly downgraded living quarters, and makes no effort to disguise her contempt of Ginger’s earthy, “grease monkey” boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale). Over the course of the film, she makes several ill-fated efforts to build a new life for herself, including a job working for a dentist (Michael Stuhlbarg ) and a romance with successful Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard ). All the while she deals with her unstable mental state by popping Xanax and drinking a lot.
The film jumps around in time Pulp Fiction style, comparing and contrasting Jasmine’s extravagant early life with Hal to her post-meltdown life as a guest of Ginger. Along the way, we meet Ginger’s rugged, macho first husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), who was conned out of his lottery winnings by the smooth talking Hal. Augie blames Jasmine as much as he does Hal for losing his once-in-a-lifetime windfall. He and Chili continually try to convince Ginger that Jasmine doesn’t deserve her charity, but Ginger feels obliged to help her sister, despite the disruptions Jasmine brings into her life.
Allen is not at his best in the drama genre, but fortunately, Blue Jasmine is not as dark as it sounds, because of Allen’s penchant for comedy. The cleverness and cadence of his dialogue keeps things feeling light and there are some Allen-esque scenes, such as Jasmine’s bungle in the dentist office with her over-excited boss. This film isn’t as clever as his recent, Oscar-winning Midnight in Paris but it’s his best serious work since Cassandra’s Dream.
A flaw in the film is that it may be dealing with too many topics. Aside from class warfare, self-delusion and self-destruction, Allen also deals with the weighty subject of mental illness, as Jasmine slowly relapses after her initial break down and steadily unravels, often talking to herself in public, while reliving memories of the past. She also has conversations with other people that turn into self-centered monologues, continuing long after the other person has lost interest. Blanchett is utterly convincing as a woman going over the edge.
Allen writes Jasmine in the mold of his previous unstable divas, such as Penelope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Judy Davis in Husbands and Wives. Jasmine is often hard to sympathize with. She is spoiled, snobbish and lies to the one man who is nice to her, in order to make herself seem more interesting. Despite her conceit, Jasmine really has no identity outside of her relationships with men. It may be hard for some viewers to root for the snooty, self-delusional Jasmine, but somehow, Blanchett exhibits such vulnerability that you find yourself hoping she pulls it together.
The rest of the cast give good supporting roles, and Hawkins is likeable as the second lead. Eighties comedian Andrew Dice Clay does surprisingly well as the lowbrow-but-honest Augie. Alec Baldwin oozes slimy charm as Hal. They are all overshadowed by the excellent Blanchett, though. Expect her to get an Oscar nod.