Woody Allen and Cate Blanchett Construct a Perfect Breakdown
Cate Blanchett is genius at demonstrating a veneer of icy sophistication slowly cracking. You can see glimpses in her eyes, her jittery jaw, her wringing hands, in the birdlike suspension of shaky limbs held akimbo. In Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen's latest film, her character Jasmine is a woman in the midst of a nervous collapse. Her real-estate swindler ex was imprisoned for stealing millions, and as a result, she's been torn from her Park Avenue penthouse. She’s holding on by a Chanel suit string, subsisting solely on Stoli, with a constant blur of mascara smudging her lower eyelid.
Blue Jasmine opens with a down-and-out Jasmine visiting her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco. Though Jasmine wants to move onward from the past, she's entrenched in it. Allen repeatedly flashes back to pivotal moments in Jasmine's life as she talks to herself, mumbling what we can only assume are things she wishes she said or acknowledged in the moment when friends warned her about her husband or when her stepson stormed out.
Still decked out in designer clothes, still lugging around her monogrammed Louis Vuitton luggage, Jasmine continues to deny her past. Denial, we learn, has worked for her throughout her life. She looked the other way, blindly signed documents, and didn't ask questions of her mogul husband as she was bestowed with a luxurious life. Jasmine benefitted from and partook in this phoniness. Even her name is perfumed―it was once Jeanette, which she says she found too pedestrian for the woman she identified as.
Jasmine's presence in Ginger's modest apartment quickly grates, as Jasmine dispenses unwanted advice about Ginger's various working class boyfriends and crummy surroundings. Among other things, Blue Jasmine is a weird, inexplicable portrait of San Francisco. Allen shoots a series of throw-away touristy scenes and then a seedy grocery store, a clinical dentist's office, and nondescript restaurants. His disdain for the West Coast is obvious, but his uninspired indifference to San Francisco in Blue Jasmine is far less amusing than, say, the playful contempt of Los Angeles he put on in Annie Hall. In Blue Jasmine, San Francisco is painted loosely and tritely, and it suffers in comparison to Allen's careful portraits of New York.
There's nothing too spectacular about the script or Streetcar Named Desire-esque plot, but Allen's semi-topical script manages to smartly walk the line between political relevance and didacticism. Alec Baldwin's Hal was arrested for a real estate scheme that promised a huge development of hotels in the Caribbean―a glamorous though deceptive endeavor; Ginger's ex-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) is a sort of jack-of-all trades repairman―relatively untalented, but down to earth and unafraid to do grimy work. After losing her wealth, Jasmine hopes to fashion herself as an interior designer―speaking to her interest in surface-level glamour. These touches ground the movie in present aftermath of the housing crisis, without being too on-the-nose or delving into moralistic cultural commentary.
Thanks the brilliant cast, Blue Jasmine does offer a few funny moments, but ultimately it's a lonely and depressing movie. The film concludes with Rodgers & Hart's "Blue Moon," the culmination of several references to the song throughout the movie. Blanchett mutters that she used to know the words, as Allen pipes in the too frequently ignored rendition from MGM's 1934 film, Manhattan Melodrama: "What is the matter with me/I'm just permitted to see, the bad in every man." (The "Blue moon, I saw you standing alone" version came after Rodgers & Hart's publisher told them to make it more commercial.) It's a perfect moment: If the audience is cued for a happy, hopeful conclusion, they haven't been paying attention—Blue Jasmine is about the folly of glossing over the past in hopes that a sunny future will just appear.
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