From the second you see Cate Blanchett sitting on a flight, rambling on and on about her life to no end, next to this poor old lady caught in a rather unfortunate situation, it’s easy to tell that writer-director Woody Allen has put together another production of A-list material for his latest picture BLUE JASMINE. Telling the story of a broken woman Jasmine (Blanchett), dealing with the demise of her marriage and high class lifestyle and forced to take up with her sister in what she sees as slumming it, Allen’s new film walks a fine line between comedy and emotional drama, between being light and delightful and being heartbreaking and sad, and he couldn’t have tip-toed through such a balancing act better. This is Woody Allen laying out his full arsenal on the table, from a strong script that juggles two different timelines and yet never feels confusing in flushing out one complete story arc that brings them both together to his incredible casting, which not only places actors like Blanchett and Alec Baldwin in their element with well-drawn characters that play to their established strengths but also playing against type with the likes of Louis C.K. and Peter Sarsgaard, who blend right into the type of roles we wouldn’t normally expect them to take. And that’s the thing about BLUE JASMINE… it almost doesn’t feel like a movie. It has the feel of a short glimpse into a world populated by these characters, filled with their problems and their feelings and their conundrums, and those are often the best kinds of movies… ones where we can totally lose ourselves in the experience of what we’re watching, forgetting for a couple hours that we’re sitting in a theatre watching fiction. It’s compelling storytelling once again from Allen, something he’s no stranger to, and that makes BLUE JASMINE one that you should go out of your way to see.
BLUE JASMINE represents a real fall from grace for its title character. Jasmine, who changed her name from Jeanette – probably because it was too middle-class – was in a happy marriage, with her well-to-do husband Hal (Baldwin), living the good life, surrounded by socialites and polo players and dinner parties and car collections made up of vintage Bentleys. She had left behind the rest of her family, namely her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), who she just regarded as being a lower class of people. She was all about money, consumed by her self-centered, self-important existence… until it all fell apart. Hal’s shady dealings, be it bank fraud or phony real estate or shell corporations, collapsed it all, and now Jasmine is left to pick up the pieces of her life, uncertain of what she is going to do next. The only thing she seems to have going for her is a high tolerance of vodka, as she refuses to lower herself to doing a job that might be too menial or interacting with people she views as beneath her. She has no idea how real life works for many people, unaware that you can’t just throw money at your problems in the hopes that they’ll go away, and, for the first time, she’s going to have to face some brutal truth about who she is and where she’s going.
Blanchett absolutely knocks this film out of the park, playing the clueless side of the coin well for laughs at the right moments, with her high brow attitude (she’s broke but still managed to somehow fly first class) still in direct conflict with how things have turned out for her. She seeks to do something substantial with her life, but has no skills, no experience, no anything to make that happen for herself, except to whine and pout about how life is unfair, all while teetering on the brink of a complete nervous breakdown (which would be her second incidentally). And it’s that latter portion of Jasmine that really grounds the film. She is so oblivious as to her current state, which can be funny in spurts, but the longer it goes on and the more she seems incapable of accepting it, the more concerning she becomes. I found my perspective on her changing, from someone who can generate some laughs to someone I genuinely felt bad for… and it wasn’t pity that she was pulling out of me. It was empathy, and that’s all Blanchett. She moved me from ridiculing this self-absorbed nitwit to feeling something for her, wanting to see the lights come on for her suddenly and finally getting it. It’s a difficult road to navigate, because her attitudes can be so incredibly unlikeable and off-putting that you wish to see her downward spiral continue. However, there still remains an elegance to Blanchett that, even through her misguided perception, you realize that there is a great portion of her poor standing that was unavoidable.
Baldwin is the right amount of confident yet sleazy to pull off Hal, the snake oil salesman who is able to use his charm in order to rope poor unsuspecting victims into his moneymaking schemes, and, as the right counter to him, Andrew Dice Clay puts on a fantastic show as Augie, whose life was ruined by the choices of Jasmine and her scumbag husband. There are attributes here that are clearly the Dice of old, but there’s also a sweetness to him, a love that we normally wouldn’t associate with his well-known persona. Augie is a man who has been battered by others. He had a dream, a simple one at that, to run his own business of a small windfall of money he came into, and, as a result of the swindling ways of Hal and the pressure from Ginger, who at the time was his wife and wanted to get closer to her family, he lost it all – his marriage, his funds, everything. And there’s a real anger to Augie that ties into what we see in our society today of people who bought bad goods from those trying to get rich quick and have nothing left to show for it. Aside from Blanchett, Clay delivers a powerhouse of a performance in BLUE JASMINE that, while short, absolutely hits hard with every word that stingingly shoots from his mouth. Clay is speaking for the masses without even knowing it, lambasting the crooks as needed, lending therapy to himself and to us, those who have been outraged at these shenanigans that have crippled our economy and, on a more personal level, families all over.
I could go on and on about how fantastic all of BLUE JASMINE is, but I’d be here all day. Seriously… there aren’t enough words for me to give you everything, because everything from its most minute detail to its bigger picture payoffs, BLUE JASMINE is a darling of a film that registers among Allen’s best. When you ask yourself, “Where are all the good movies these days?” you can find the answer wherever this film is playing. It’s worth going out of your way for.