To say that Woody Allen is a great film-maker is a colossal understatement. He has shifted and changed from the tranquil days of “Annie Hall”, “Manhattan” to the sparkling highs of “Match Point”, “Midnight in Paris.” Every time he gives a bad movie, critics quote that this is the demise of his career. But, his creative flame fights back to give another triumphant drama. The recent, more serious Allen’s social satire “Blue Jasmine” (2013) is so diversified that it looks less like a “Woody Allen film.” Narcissism flows through Woody’s films. It is mostly played to laughs. But, in “Blue Jasmine”, the level of narcissism is so unsparing that it makes a viewer both laugh and cry. The film is touted to be the reworking of Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Williams’ tragic American heroine is uprooted and place by Allen in a post-recession, financial collapse age. It is also the first instance since 1970’s for Allen to shoot his film in a U.S. location (San Francisco) outside the beloved New York City metro.
The top one percent of wealthy Americans’ extravagant spending and merry ways are scrutinized closely to create this Allen style fiction. The movie starts with Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) arriving in San Francisco to move with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Ginger and Jasmine are both adopted from different sets of biological parents. Jasmine is the pretty one and has the haughtiness of a movie star. Ginger was left alone to find her way in life. Jasmine behaves like a worst house guest. She starts with disparaging comments about Ginger’s apartment and makes cruel remarks about her current boyfriend, Chili (Bobby Cannavale). Jasmine always covers herself from reality and frets about her once-rich life.
Jasmine’s husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin) was a rich financial fraudster. He is eventually caught by FBI and faces a sad demise. Jasmine has turned a blind eye to her husband’s schemes and has encouraged her sister and her ex-husband, Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) to invest their fortune in Hal’s shady financial dealings. The loss ends Ginger’s marriage and dreams, but she remains forgiving towards Jasmine. However, Jasmine is not accustomed to this new life and tries to avert the gazes of men, whom she thinks are below her status. A shot to yet another rich life opens, when she impresses a wealthy diplomat (Peter Sarsgaard).
Allen flips the script between present and past. It goes back to flashbacks of rich Jasmine being gifted with jewels and hosting A-list dinner parties and skips to the now, humiliated life (especially the shoe selling and receptionist job she takes). “One minute you’re hosting women and the next you’re measuring their shoe size!” laments Jasmine. This film also deviates from the usual story arc of Allen funny flicks. Here, it is laced with black humor and moments of lacerating humor, such as when Jasmine converses with her two young nephews. There’s also none of those Allen’s neuroses in the character sketches, although the Jasmine faces “mental issues.” In the later part, the plot wavers unnecessarily towards Ginger, which is the less memorable thing.
Blanchett’s Jasmine is brilliantly multi-layered. She is not the one-dimensional anti-hero, even though does harm wherever she goes and is too shallow to care. Blanchett explores her as a tragic person and takes the viewer behind the facade of pride to show us the brittle side of this ad and desperate woman. The mascara-smudged eyes and blush-colored dresses of Jasmine, even in her current disintegrated life, bring a raw naturalism to the character. Blanchett was also immensely crowded with a ensemble of expert supporting actors: Sally Hawkins chipper performance and Alec Baldwin’s conniving smooth operator role adds more strength to this character study.
“Blue Jasmine” neither retains the aesthetics of 70’s Allen films nor the huge emotions of "Hannah and Her Sisters," "Crimes and Misdemeanors", but at the age of 77, Allen once again gives a convincing portrait of failing lives, constructed on pretense and deceit.
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, language and sexual content