Sunday, January 26, 2014

Blue Jasmine: A Woman on the Verge of Something

I can't claim to be a Woody Allen devotee but ever since he left New York behind to shoot movies in other locales, I've found myself far more engaged in his work. Heresy, I know. Blue Jasmine is set in San Francisco, with flashbacks about Jasmine's old life in New York. However, this is an Allen film where the location doesn't really matter. Instead, the focus is squarely on Jasmine.

Played by Cate Blanchett (who is almost a lock for the Best Actress Oscar this year), Jasmine Francis arrives in San Francisco to live with her adopted sister, Ginger (the wonderful Sally Hawkins). Jasmine was a glittery Manhattan socialite, married to Hal (the reliable Alec Baldwin), a wealthy businessman whose empire came crashing down when he was arrested for fraud. Jasmine is now completely broke, suffering from acute mental distress, and has arrived at Ginger's doorstep to get back on her feet. The sisters aren't especially closetheir lives diverged widely and Jasmine was too self-absorbed to have much time for her working-class sisterbut Ginger is a kind woman who wouldn't dream of abandoning Jasmine in her time of need.

Blanchett's performance is a dream to watch. At first, Jasmine seems like a woman to root for, someone who has suffered a great deal and requires the audience's sympathy despite her penchant for histrionics. However, more is gradually revealed about her past and her extremely flawed personality. Rather than being the heroine, she's revealed to be the villain, a woman who has failed spectacularly and dragged everyone down with her. And yet, she remains oblivious, convinced that she is a victim of fate who has no personal responsibility for her downfall.

The supporting cast is filled with several well-known actors, including Bobby Canavale as Ginger's stereotypical working-class boyfriend, Chili, and Louis C.K. as a rival for Ginger's affections. Peter Sarsgaard puts in a very un-Sarsgaardian appearance as a wealthy man who might be the answer to Jasmine's troubles, and their relationship winds along merrily to its inevitable conclusion. But everyone pales in comparison to Blanchett, whose trembly, arrogant performance steals every scene. As much as you hate Jasmine, you can't help but feel a sneaking admiration for her steely resolve and selfishness. Despite her many troubles, this is a wily woman, and you keep wondering if Jasmine will claw her way back to the top.

Woody Allen has clearly modeled Jasmine Francis after another flawed and fallen woman, Blanche DuBois from A Streetcar Named Desire. She is a complicated, frustrating, fascinating character and a wonder to behold throughout this movie. The various subplots and shenanigans of Blue Jasmine are less than memorable, but Jasmine is a woman you will never forget. The next time you hear the familiar strains of Blue Moon, you'll say to yourself, "Oh, I remember this was playing when I first saw Jasmine..."

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