With his dreamy ode to nostalgia, Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen sent Owen Wilson time-traveling through culture to meet F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso. Allen’s Blue Jasmine may not feature the living partying among the dead, but it is similarly far-fetched, finding an obscenely rich New York socialite fall down from Manhattan’s heavens to join the working class ranks of San Francisco.
To set up such unlikely scenarios, where worlds so far removed find common ground, Allen requires a touch of contrivance—in this case, adoption is the easy explanation—but once he overcomes the finicky details, Blue Jasmine sings.
In a performance that makes up for the flaws in the screenplay (and then some), Cate Blanchett plays the titular Jasmine, the wife of a Bernie Madoff-type (Alec Baldwin) left bankrupt and mentally unhinged after her sleazy husband gets caught. In desperate need for a place to crash and get back on her feet, Jasmine arrives at the cramped San Francisco apartment belonging to her estranged, adopted sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), a single-mom who works at a small grocery store.
From there, Allen’s situational comedy successfully mines for laughs, pitting Jasmine and her high-society airs against the “real world”, populated by noisy children, greasy boyfriends and day jobs. Scenes where Jasmine, in full high-heel mode, tries to get a handle on the duties of a secretary or the flirtations of a mechanic boast Allen’s sharpest comedic talents.
Left to right: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Andrew Dice Clay, Sally Hawkins. Photo by Jessica Miglio © 2013 Gravier Productions, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
Allen is working in extremes, critical towards the rich and obnoxious while swooning over the happy-go-lucky working class. He compensates a bit for such a simplistic worldview by also giving Ginger her moment of disillusionment—when given the opportunity to be spoiled like Jasmine, who could refuse. Meanwhile Jasmine earns our sympathy, despite some of her grotesque behaviour.
In flashbacks to her previous life in the clouds, Jasmine is graceful and elegant, aware that she’s the centre of attention and charming elite crowds to keep circling her orbit. Her identity is a performance that involves intently ignoring some unflattering details that would burst her bubble. When sh*t hits the fan and the audience disappears, Jasmine’s frame of mind starts to dissolve. Yet she keeps the performance going, often uttering her own narrative to herself in scenes where she comes off as the local kook.
The character is a layered, larger-than-life, showstopper who often breaks a poised calm to become an emotional wreck. This is a daunting role for a good actress but Blanchett is great. She navigates between the nimble shimmy and the quivering snaps with ease, inhabiting Jasmine’s extremes and making the character whole. Blanchett steals our hearts playing a character we want to loath. Meanwhile, she raises the stock of a movie that would be pretty middling without her.
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