In many ways, “Blue Jasmine” just can’t hope to compete with Blanchett, who feels like she is more deeply committed than the rest of the movie that veers from broad-ish, slight comedy to bleak, depressing drama and back again. It’s part raw and ugly character study, part ensemble comedy, but it’s that first element that is so striking, bold and unnerving, while the latter element is sometimes amusing, but familiar. “She's Cate Blanchett, what can you do? You hire her and get out of the way," Allen said in a recent interview and it’s with this statement one starts to believe in the hands of another actress, “Blue Jasmine,” could have been a much lighter, breezier affair overall (in the same interview Blanchett suggests she was given little direction and left to her own devices, which is Allen's modus operandi).
A new life begins, full of rude awakenings, but the past is always with the unstable Jasmine, presented via numerous flashbacks often triggered by a in-the-moment emotional responses. Her past includes Hal, her unfaithful husband and Danny (Alden Ehrenreich), Hal's son from a previous marriage who drops out of Harvard in shame when his father is jailed and revealed to be a financial scam artist who has ruined several lives with his scheming ways. And those touched by the misfortune are not that twice removed, including Ginger and her ex-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), suckered into putting their one ticket to happiness (literally a winning lottery ticket) into one of Hal’s monetary scams. Thus Ginger and Jasmine have deep a fractured history, but the younger, more happy-go-lucky sibling never resents the elder, formerly impossibly-wealthy relation, for causing this calamity.
And class is also deeply on the film’s mind. Jasmine comes from wealth and there’s a major dichotomy between her and her sister who comes from blue-collar, arguably low-class means. In a parallel universe, there’s a funnier version of “Blue Jasmine” out there. But with Cate Blanchett at the helm of this character, “Blue Jasmine” is raw-nerve stuff, hard-to-watch and aching with throbbing emotional pain that is all too real. Watching Blanchett’s entitled character, accustomed to wealth and affluence having to struggle as a receptionist for a libidinous dentist (played with creepy skeevyness by Michael Stuhlbarg) is near excruciating, and Jasmine’s life, as rendered by Blanchett so amazingly, is utterly agonizing. Further brilliant is the deep humanity that Blanchett envelopes into what is otherwise a wretched, narcissistic character that got everything she deserved in life. Jasmine is a horrible person, as demonstrated by every condescending interaction she has with every character she meets, but in Blanchett’s hand she is a wounded flower that you can’t help with empathize with even as abhorrent as her behavior often is. And to call Blanchett simply another “neurotic” Woody Allen character is a disservice to how brutally collapsed she is emotionally and psychically.
Cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe, who shot the luminous “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” also does a beautiful job here, making ‘Jasmine’ look luxurious where it needs to and quaint and unremarkable, but never oppressive, in the scenes involving Ginger's humble abode. “Blue Jasmine” has some interesting things to say about class, wealth and tragedy (though some of them being superficial and one-dimensional), but it’s sharpest, most cutting salvos are looking straight at the ugly conditions of the human heart, our lies, compartmentalized delusions, and desperate coping methods. In this manner, “Blue Jasmine” vaguely resembles “Husbands & Wives,” but certainly filtered through Allen’s recent tendency to sift through and examine past heartaches and contrition. It’s unclear, and perhaps doubtful, if the deeply flawed Jasmine ever learns from her mistakes, but in her various, sometimes heartbreaking stumbles to find balance underneath her feet, an all-too-human and relatable human in distress is revealed. She’s a difficult, incorrigible woman to the very end, but one who still bleeds a need for compassion and understanding.
“Blue Jasmine” [B+], Cate Blanchett in “Blue Jasmine” [A+]