Since the early ‘70s, Woody Allen has consistently written, directed, and occasionally starred in one film a year. The proliferation of Allen’s work, in front of and behind the camera, can only be compared to the early days of Charlie Chaplin, though by putting out a picture year, we’re bound to receive a few duds. Thankfully, Blue Jasmine is not one of them and Allen’s 43rd feature film is his most narratively-focused and morally tenebrous piece of filmmaking since Crimes and Misdemeanors in 1990.
Propelled by a heartbreaking leading performance, Cate Blanchett plays Jasmine, a distressed middle-age woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. After her crooked Wall Street husband (Hal played by Alec Baldwin) is incarnated for embezzlement, broke and homeless, Jasmine flees to San Francisco where her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) and her two boys reside.
As we see Jasmine attempting to pick up the pieces of her life, we’re privy to the past. Allen interweaves flashbacks in a sort of cause and effect manner. We see Jasmine living the life of a socialite on the Upper East Side of New York City, attending opulent black ties, living lavishly in her mansion, flippantly giving money to charities – the same money Hal stole from hard working people. One of those people being Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), Ginger’s ex-husband who invested $200,000 dollars with Hal that evaporated into thin air almost instantly.
Jasmine, psychologically troubled, heavily medicated, and hung up on the extravagant life she used to have, is attempting to reinvent herself through schooling and a part time job as a dentist assistant (played by a deceptive and creepy Michael Stuhlbarg). While Jasmine’s plight for sanity is devastating to watch unravel, it’s the supporting elements of Blue Jasmine that make this one Allen’s strongest works in years.
A near antithesis of her sister, Ginger is a down-to-earth grocery store bagger who’s got herself into a tricky love triangle with Chili (a blue-collar and committed lover played by Bobby Cannavale) and Dwight (Louis C.K.), a seemingly kind man who makes her feel special. She can do better then both men, but lacks confidence in herself.
The film is laced with gut-wrenching, reflective themes that force viewers to put a mirror up to themselves: our proclivity to always want more in life, our discontentment with what we have until its gone, our pent-up sexual desires to be with someone new, succumbing to infidelity. But above all Blue Jasmine is about identity, and our eternal attempt to find and hold onto who we are as individuals.
Jasmine never completed college. With a year left Hal swept her off her feet and promised a better life. She never had to work for her Louis Vutton luggage or Chanel handbags. These garish, though ultimately vacuous items were merely given to her. And within all that excess went her identity. She was no longer Jasmine; she was Hal’s wife.
Eventually the lights turn on and the party is over. Blue Jasmine captures a manic and delusional woman attempting to rebuild herself after a prodigal life she received, but never deserved. Jasmine isn’t unwatchable though (a testament to how brilliant Blanchett is) – her sympathetic story is tragic and all too common. Seamless in design, the peerless auteur paints a painful picture with Blue Jasmine – an homage to the city of San Francisco, a searing commentary on 21st century superfluity, and a calamitous riches to rags story of a woman who’s mired in the past and doomed for the future.