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.Follow @filmbyfelix