Woody Allen draws sympathetic portrait of an old theme in Blue Jasmine
The battle between illusion and reality is hardly a revolutionary theme in film, but only Woody Allen could approach the concept by making us laugh, while forcing us to take a sober look at the everyday lies we tell ourselves in the same stroke. This is exactly what Blue Jasmine, Allen’s latest film, accomplishes.
Cate Blanchett is Jasmine, a pampered New York socialite who falls from grace after a financial scandal à la Bernie Madoff, and ends up in the hands of her working-class sister in San Francisco. It’s a tough life when you are no longer on top, and the film consistently mesmerizes and distresses as Jasmine is given chance after chance, only to have redemption swatted out of her hands at the last moment every time.
If the drama itself does not draw you in, the subject matter might. Few things are as relatable these days as financial troubles, career anxiety, and generally keeping it all together. The film’s pervasive contrast between two socioeconomic worlds dances around social commentary – an objective that Allen denies – but it also sets up for some clever antics in what is otherwise a deceptively dark film.
You only need to glance at the trailer to see the glaring similarities to A Streetcar Named Desire. In terms of both plot and character development, Blue Jasmine may seem unsubtle at times – Jasmine sashays around in Chanel gasping things like “I’m very trusting” and “Jesus! It’s too menial,” while several overarching themes are stated rather bluntly in dialogue. In fact, the character of Jasmine would be unbelievable, just a parody of rich New Yorkers, were it not for Allen’s carefully-timed changes of setting between past and present, stability and panic, delusion and hard reality. This, along with Blanchett’s incredibly raw and nuanced portrayal of an emotional breakdown, is more than enough to make us feel for Jasmine, horrible though she may be.
In this way, the performances of Blue Jasmine’s motley cast are its strongest point across the board. Blanchett outshines Sally Hawkins—the Brit who plays Jasmine’s simultaneously gritty and mousy sister—but only slightly. Andrew Dice Clay and Bobby Cannavale are in their own element as they play those things that guidos evolve into once they pass the age of 40 (although the distinct New Joisey accents of these alleged San Franciscans is a bit questionable.) Even fans of comedian Louis C.K. will be pleased to see him essentially play himself in a small role.
Allen has put out at least one movie per year since the ‘80s, some of which were wildly popular, and others much less so (does anyone remember Melinda and Melinda?) People will say what they want about the plot, but Blue Jasmine is likely to stand out among his recent work, even if for no other reason than the excellent cast and the authenticity of the performances. Despite yourself, you will wind up rooting for the train wreck that is Jasmine – whether it is out of pity, empathy, or something in between.