The Two Faces of Cate Blanchett and Woody Allen in Blue Jasmine

Blue Jasmine 2

Happy Jasmine

Blue Jasmine

Blue Jasmine

In Woody Allen’s last dramatic mini-masterpiece, Match Point, his protagonist showed that with a bit of hard work, and a bit of good luck, a person could get away with anything…even murder.  But maybe the old Woodster really wasn’t that cynical, and maybe he wanted to atone for that message.  Allen has plenty to atone for.  And so does Wall Street.  His latest, Blue Jasmine, shares a bit thematically with Match Point in its depiction of charades and human beings willing to do anything (even start Ponzi schemes) to hold onto the good life, but it also shows that bad luck is just as easy to conjure as good luck.  Here, Allen’s culprit (Alec Baldwin) gets caught, and Allen depicts the aftershocks of a Madoff-like scandal through the eyes of the criminal’s fractured wife.  With its bi-coastal setting hopscotching timeframes between New York and San Francisco, Allen seems to be atoning for all the time he spent in Europe, and perhaps communally for Wall Street’s dirty deeds…for the gilded life he’s lived for so long in New York alongside those financial schemers…for the snobbery…for the elitism…the casually charming arrogance of it all.  Every good thing comes to an end…right?  And all we need to get through it is a little vodka and Xanax.

Jasmine French (Cate Blanchett) had it all – the money, the houses, the clothes, the jewelry, the dinner parties and fund-raisers, the true Park Avenue life.  But her husband was a crook at the top of a massive pyramid scheme.  Now she has nothing and is crossing the continent to join her sister (a charmingly down-on-her-luck Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco.  The two sisters (they were both adopted) are polar opposites, and it’s not long before the pill-popping, anxiety-ridden Jasmine is looking down on her sister’s life as a divorced grocery clerk with two kids and begins sparring A Streetcar Named Desire-style with her sister’s grease-monkey boyfriend (a spirited Bobby Canavale).  As much of a mess that she is, it’s disarming to see Jasmine can still put on the charm, as she so carelessly does when she meets a wealthy diplomat eyeing a political run (a smarmy Peter Sarsgaard) at a party.  She lies about her past, pretends to be an interior designer and they fall in love.  Meanwhile, her sister is tempted to date a nicer guy (Louis C. K.) she met at the same party.  Suffice it to say…the best laid plans…

Allen has long mastered that delicate balance between comedy and drama, farce and satire.  Blue Jasmine is one of his more layered screenplays, not willing to rest in a comfy genre label.  Yes, you might laugh at a character’s quirk or mannerism, the absurdity of a drunk woman yammering at her young nephews or a well-placed piece of acerbic dialogue, but this is pretty dark and serious stuff.  There’s a revelation at the end, when we learn the full truth of how Jasmine’s husband was caught, that adds a dynamic layer to what is ultimately a tragedy.  In Blanchett, he’s found a triumphant muse willing to go these dark places with him…into the depths of the lies people tell each other and themselves…into the depths of her blues.  And Allen paints every character with nuance.  Witness the politeness of Cannavale’s character when he has a public emotional breakdown and then the restraint he shows when Jasmine hurls insults his way near the end of the film.  Hell, Allen’s even able to coax a convincing performance out of the likes of Andrew Dice Clay as the sister’s bitter ex whose dreams were crushed by the Ponzi scheme.

Allen’s direction, his dialogue…Blanchett’s interpretation, her quivers, her panic, her charm.  It’s choreographed as a delicate dance but, Jasmine’s arms are all akimbo.  Blanchett is like a sad, frail bent-over tree refusing to blow over in a hurricane gale.  You can’t help but watch the shaking and the wind and wonder when is that thing going to have its roots ripped from the ground and its whole body blown out to sea?  Blanchett’s Jasmine is indeed the deepest of blue…and she’s a Woody Allen character for the ages.

Written by David H. Schleicher

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10 comments on “The Two Faces of Cate Blanchett and Woody Allen in Blue Jasmine

  1. It’s hard to do this when the guy has been so abnormally prolific…but shall we? Name your Top Ten Woody Allen films:

    1. Manhattan
    2. Hannah & Her Sisters
    3. Annie Hall
    4. Match Point
    5. Vicky Cristina Barcelona
    6. Blue Jasmine
    7. Interiors
    8. The Purple Rose of Cairo
    9. Midnight in Paris (this one has really grown on me)
    10. Broadway Danny Rose

    Runners Up: Manhattan Murder Mystery, Bullets over Broadway, Zelig, Mighty Aprhodite, Sweet & Low Down

  2. Prakash J says:

    You know I’m a Woody Allen fanboy and your excellent and nuanced review only makes me want to watch this one so badly. Looks like his best offering after Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

    Here’s My List:
    1) Annie Hall (I’m too nostalgic about this to not let this be by #1)
    2) Match Point
    3) Manhattan
    4) Vicky Cristina Barcelona
    5) The Purple Rose of Cairo
    6) Love & Death (For Diane Keaton)
    7) To Rome With Love
    8) You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger
    9) Interiors
    10) – – – – (I’ll leave one space blank. I have a feeling Blue Jasmine will make it to my list).

  3. CMrok93 says:

    Good review David. Blanchett owns this flick and really keeps it going. I do feel like maybe Woody was fishing a little too hard for some meaning to this story, but overall, it worked in the end.

  4. Arti says:

    Now that I’ve seen the film and have written a review of my own, I come to read your thoughts. Appreciate your evaluations and glad too that we share some similar views. You use the word ‘atone’, coincidentally, I use ‘redeem’. Of course, we both mean Match Point, and yes, Crimes and Misdemeanors. Not only that, he seems to redeem himself in his poking fun at the working class, by showing the crooks are from the upper crust, and, mental illness knows no class barriers. And of course, we are both glad that Woody Allen has just made a new version of A Streetcar Named Desire, a more enjoyable take but no less poignant.

    Cate Blanchett deserves an Oscar nod. And maybe, another original screenplay nod for Allen. Yes, still ‘original’ despite the predecessor of Elia Kazan’s Streetcar. All the modern parallels are Allen’s, so I feel Blue Jasmine deserves to be called his very own.

    • Arti – I read your review the other day. We do seem to be on the same page in terms of our admiration for the film, particularly for Allen’s inward insights and Blanchett’s outward performance. The constant comparison’s to “A Streetcar Named Desire” seeming to be overshadowing “Blue Jasmine” though – I think the similarities are only surface level. Allen’s is quite a different tale altogether…or maybe not…

  5. Sam Juliano says:

    Fabulous work here David! I loved BLUE JASMINE too, and consider it one of the best films of the year! Cate Blanchett’s performance is amazing!

    1. Annie Hall
    2. Crimes and Misdemeanors
    3. Stardust Memories
    4. Manhattan
    5. Everyone Says I Love You
    6. Blue Jasmine
    7. Sleeper
    8. Match Point
    9. Broadway Danny Rose
    10. Bananas

    • Sam – no Hannah & Her Sisters in your top ten?

      As for Blanchett – she seems a front-runner for awards, but the meaty roles for actresses this year (many of which we have not yet seen but know are on the horizon) seem to have come in the dozens…which is rare.

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