Blue Jasmine. A woman past the verge of a nervous breakdown.

blue-jasmine-cate-blanchett

Cate Blanchett’s performance in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine is a marvel, the kind of performance that would get extended standing ovations and curtain calls if it were done on the stage. But the performance seems to exist outside of the rest of the movie. It’s not that the performance is so superior to the others (there isn’t a bad performance in the movie.) But Allen can’t quite blend the varying tones.

Blanchett plays Jasmine, a former member of the economic one-percenters who’s fallen on hard times. Her husband, a Bernie Madoff-type played by Alec Baldwin, swindled millions from many and has paid the price. Jasmine is now forced to move from the swanky East Coast to live with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins, who is being unfairly left out of many of the conversations about the movie; if Blanchett’s performance is award-worthy, so is Hawkins’) in a working-class section of San Francisco. The fact that she flew cross-country first class, while carrying around a few Louis Vuitton bags, seems to suggest she’s going to have a hard time living a more budget-conscious lifestyle.

Jasmine is one of the most complicated characters Allen has ever conceived. She’s a more soulful version of the typical well-educated, tightly wound, strong yet frail neurotic that have populated Allen’s movies for decades. But she doesn’t attempt to win anybody’s sympathy the way that Allen’s other characters have tried (especially the ones played by Allen himself.) Jasmine is all sharp edges, and she doesn’t have a sense of humor about herself or seemingly anyone else. She’s a person of exquisite taste, and she has difficulty abiding by those who are unaware of their lack of taste and grace.

Jasmine has forever been the good sister, elegant and refined, while Ginger has always been the other sister, average and dowdy. Ginger, who works in a grocery store, has had to struggle for everything while Jasmine has used her gifts to attract the attentions of men in high places, and there’s a wonderful movie to be made in exploring the tensions between two such diametrically opposed sisters.

But Allen focuses too much on the working class men in Ginger’s life (the ex played by Clay and her current boyfriend played by Bobby Cannavale) and how she interacts with them. And while Clay and Cannavale do well with what they’re given, they aren’t given all that much. Allen has never been able to write working class characters well, and while some of the contempt Allen has for these types is thankfully absent for the characters in Blue Jasmine, they’re still not much more than one-dimensional.

This is the biggest weakness in Blue Jasmine. You have these loud, working class types yelling at each other and here’s Jasmine, who seems to be existing in a completely different universe. I know it’s a fish out of water story, but it seems tonally awkward, and not intentionally so. At times, it feels as if Allen has taken Blanche DuBois and placed her in an episode of The Honeymooners.

There are a lot of ideas that Allen seems to have about Jasmine, the manner in which she has crafted her persona, her breakdown, the way she tries to live her own life yet feels like she has to be taken care of by a man, that aren’t given the opportunity to be fully fleshed out. The movie is like an adaptation of a deep and rich novel that left out so many details because perhaps they wouldn’t work cinematically. There’s a lot going on Blue Jasmine, and some of the characters, such as a potential paramour played by Louis CK and a less-than-appropriate dentist played by Michael Stuhlbarg, get the short shrift while others get too much time.

But a novel would’ve deprived us of Blanchett’s performance, which will be talked about for a long time, and rightfully so. And the movie ends with the perfect image, as Jasmine, unable to find her bearings, sits and talks to the only person who truly understands what she’s feeling.

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12 comments

    • Cameron

      Thanks Joan. Maybe my expectations were too high. I heard it’s his best since Match Point, and I LOVED Match Point. Judging only his more recent output, I’d put it on par with Vicky Cristina Barcelona. But I could easily see Cannavale saying, “To the moon, Jasmine!” If people still said that sort of thing….

  1. CMrok93

    Good review Cameron. I honestly wonder how much of this mirror’s Woody’s actual life. And by that, I mean concerning Mia Farrow and that whole scandal, since there’s a lot of those same type of sex games going on here. Nonetheless, good movie, but the tone kept it away from being a great one.

    • Cameron

      Thanks Dan! That’s an interesting take, I never thought of it that way. It does shed a new light on some of things that happen in the movie. And you’re right, the tone keep the movie from being as great as the central performance.

  2. Mark Hobin

    I adored this film. Cate Blanchett IS Blue Jasmine. All other characters serve to illustrate her strengths and weaknesses. I cared for this woman and I despised her. Such a complicated portrait. Hello Oscar nomination?!

    • Cameron

      I didn’t think it’d be possible to be even more surprised by how good Cate Blanchett is considering all of the fine work she’s already done. But she blew me away in this, even more than I was expecting. I’ll go out on a limb and say I’d be surprised if ANYBODY gives a better performance than Blanchett in this movie.

  3. table9mutant

    Great review. Not sure it’s my type of thing, though. Do I now admit to you that I’ve never seen a Woody Allen film..?! No, I better not tell anyone that… 🙂

  4. dbmoviesblog

    Great review. I know that Blanchett never disappoints, but I still have to turn my head around Woody Allen’s films. I loved ‘Vicky, Christina, Barcelona’, but failed to grasp the genius behind ‘Midnight in Paris’. Hopefully, ‘Blue Jasmine’ would stand to the director’s name.

    • Cameron

      Thanks! I liked Midnight in Paris, but I couldn’t quite comprehend why it became SO popular. For me, Match Point was the last great Woody Allen movie. If Blue Jasmine does breakthrough and become a popular success, all for the better, since more people will see this truly monumental performance from Blanchett.

  5. Victor De Leon

    I’ve fallen off the wayside a bit with Allen and I need to play catch up. I have been a strong fan of his work for a long time. I enjoyed your review and I may start my re-visit to his films here, with Blue Jasmine. I adore Blanchett and I most surely need to watch Match Point. Thanks, Cam! (Oh and I liked your “The Honeymooners” analogy. LOVE that show).

    • Cameron

      Thanks for the kind words, Vic! Blanchett is AMAZING and the movie is really a wonderful showcase for her. And yes, check out Match Point, just a wonderfully nasty little movie. And who doesn’t love The Honeymooners… classic!! 🙂

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