RB score: 10/10
In a field of very compelling Oscar contenders this year, Cate Blanchett is in the running for Best Actress for her performance in “Blue Jasmine.” I dearly hope she wins. If Woody Allen is undeniably a gifted writer and director, which he demonstrates without qualification in this movie, then Cate Blanchett is the parallel force of talent as the lead actress. Actually, Allen assembled a very strong cast with at least one major surprise, Andrew Dice Clay…. and oh how it works!
The story of Jasmine unfolds as she arrives in San Francisco to stay with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins, nominated for Supporting Actress), as she has no money and no where to go. Her husband, Hal, a smooth Wall Street criminal, played by Alec Baldwin, was disgraced, imprisoned, and finally committed suicide in prison. All the trappings of wealth that Jasmine enjoyed were sold or confiscated, although she evidently kept some clothes. Blanchett, with her finely drawn features and lithe figure, does an excellent job of conveying the look of elegance from someone so accustomed to a perfect wardrobe, they don’t have to think twice about it. Even though she is now technically homeless. This is the crux of the Allen genius in this movie: He manages to portray the segment of American society termed “the 1%” and the opposite end of the spectrum, poverty, using the same musical score, and the same actress. The level of artistry keeps the movie from ever even venturing near cliche.
Not surprisingly, Jasmine isn’t exactly adjusting well to having lost everything. Substance abuse and signs of mental instability are balanced with a fierce yet quiet courage of the type that is often overlooked. Courage can only be measured by the individual’s difficulty of overcoming their unique demons. When she arrives at Ginger’s modest home and casually mentions that she had flown in first class, Ginger is aghast and asks the question that is on the audience’s mind: “If you have no money, how did you fly first class?” The question is not answered, and she asks it twice for good measure. Allen knows what he is doing. Does it matter how she did it? Not really. It gets you thinking about other things.
Ginger is a single mom who works in a grocery store, having divorced her husband (Clay) who had lost everything to one of Hal’s fraudulent investments, and is now dating another working-class character, (Bobby Cannavale) disdained by Jasmine. Ginger is almost surprisingly free of resentment and does not blame Jasmine for what happened, comprehending as she does the innocence of her supposedly worldly sister. Jasmine herself is casting about trying to decide what to do, frozen in her world of depression and reaching the only conclusions she can: Find a job and go back to school. On the surface, perfectly logical but uncomfortably, she has become disassociated from reality. There is a subtle jab by Allen at liberal arts degrees, (which used to be called MRS degrees back in the day, maybe still are) when Jasmine is asked, “What would you have been if you finished school?” and she replied, “An anthropologist.”
In that moment the audience realizes what Jasmine doesn’t, that she has no tools and no skills to make a living in a job market that silently discriminates against middle aged women. To illustrate further, Jasmine does get a job, through a connection (also very realistic, bravo Allen). The connection was a blind date, Eddie, (played by the very charming Max Casella) arranged by Ginger’s boyfriend. The impromptu double date was not a success which although amusing, was not surprising either. Eddie does know someone, who knows someone who works in a dentist’s office that needs a receptionist. The dentist turns out to be a jerk who harasses Jasmine, in a subtle way at first, and then becomes full-on, overt textbook actionable harassment when he tries to force himself on her and she fights him off, lovely and vulnerable, leaving the office with dignity intact and announcing she has quit. More genius from Allen here. There were no nuances present, he does not mean to leave a single vestige of doubt that this was lawsuit material. Lawsuit! Why is Jasmine. broke and now unemployed again, not running to the nearest attorney office? Because she is not functioning well enough to be able to look out for her own interests. I can’t judge someone in this much pain.
There is much more development but to describe further ventures into spoiler territory and everyone should see this film. It all looks so easy to the moviegoer’s eye, when you see the final creation and perfect balance of script, acting, music, lighting, color and camera work. Like Jasmine’s wardrobe, something that appears effortless on the surface. And it’s not just about the artistry. There is a certain social commentary captured by Allen here and its nuances may be interpreted differently by different viewers. Middle aged women in America today, whose lives were supposed to go a certain way, and then didn’t, is a real life tragedy being played out every day and in different ways.