Review: Blue Jasmine


Like clockwork, every passing year brings another entry into Woody Allen’s lengthy oeuvre. Most know better than to expect a masterpiece every twelve months, and its undeniably true that the quality from one film to the next rarely adheres. Nevertheless, Allen’s reputation as an American filmmaker has long been cemented, so no matter the ultimate result, it never hurts to take a fresh look at what the endearing neurotic New Yorker has in store. Blue Jasmine is his latest, and while it doesn’t represent any major change of pace for Allen, it represents some of his most complex work of late, with textured dramatic dialogue and a game cast, particularly a fire breathing Cate Blanchett as the film’s anti-heroine.

Two American coasts are the locales in which Blue Jasmine plays out. Jasmine, or Janette, (Cate Blanchett) has just lost all of her money. Her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) is a Bernie Madoff type, and has just been sent to prison, with his and Jasmine’s entire fortune decimated. With not a cent to her name, Jasmine leaves New York City to live with her adopted sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco. Ginger’s quaint apartment is naturally a major shift in Jasmine’s environment, but exteriors are the least of her troubles. To call Jasmine mentally unstable is an understatement. She’s barely a recognizable human as she endures radical mood swings, talks to herself, and only finds solace in vodka martinis and xanax. Though she has the best intentions of picking herself back up, her abrasive and self-deceptive personality stands in the way of ever righting the vessel through the tempest of her life.

Blue Jasmine juggles back and forth between Jasmine’s two lives: her joyful but careless time with the adulterous Hal in New York, and her swamped, delusional troubles in San Francisco. The contrasts between the two are obvious, and the concept of shifting back and forth is interesting, but the execution isn’t always there. Some transitions, such as Jasmine discovering Ginger’s apartment for the first time coupled with Hal showing off a new luxury apartment in New York work smoothly, but other jumps feel arbitrary. Furthermore, it becomes clear that the San Francisco story is richer, with a subplot involving Ginger’s failed relationships providing a key ingredient in her rapport with Jasmine. The New York narrative definitely has well developed parts, but eventually gives way to Jasmine’s troubles on the west coast.

Despite some of the structural problems with Blue Jasmine, there are dozens of scenes characteristic of Allen’s strength in dialogue. An early scene in particular stands out when Ginger and her first husband (Andrew “Dice” Clay) come to New York to visit Jasmine and Hal. The first exchanges are uncomfortable, and every actor in the scene plays to the subtext bubbling underneath the spoken words. Allen has become such a veteran with this, and the actors are effortless in their performances. In fact, every supporting performance in Blue Jasmine has its moment in the sun, even from extended cameos like Louis C.K. and Michael Stuhlbarg, but there’s no kidding that this is the Cate Blanchett show. Jasmine may very well be one of Allen’s most terrifying creations on the page, and Blanchett breathes volatile life into her every fiber. In other hands, Jasmine may have simply been a caricature, but Blanchett makes her completely human, a study in how someone may never recover from the traumas they beset upon themselves. Jasmine may not be entirely relatable or even likable, but Blanchett makes her fascinating. Blue Jasmine arrives at its conclusion thanks to a few convenient detours, but its clear that Allen’s focus is on character rather than narrative. More importantly, even though the film ends, Jasmine doesn’t necessarily arrive at any kind of personal resolution. This acknowledgement by Allen verifies that try as we may to overcome our flaws, the storms of our past may rage yet again.


~ by romancinema on July 27, 2013.

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