Blue Jasmine represents another leap forward for Woody Allen. This would hardly seem possible. He has been making movies for more than four decades and is responsible for more classics than any other writer-director in history, with the possible exception of his idol, Ingmar Bergman. But in its tonal range and in the depth of its lead character, Blue Jasmine is something new
At the start of the movie, the elegant and refined Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) is coming undone - she’s a babbling, panicky, Xanax-popping mess. Jasmine has flown from New York to San Francisco to visit her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). She claims she’s flat broke even though she flew first class (“You know me. I splurge from habit.”) and needs a place to stay while she reinvents her life
In periodic flashbacks, we start to understand what’s ailing Jasmine. Her husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), was a wealthy financier who operated a Madoff-style scheme, stole millions of dollars from his clients and was sent to prison. Jasmine, who claims to have had no idea what Hal was up to, lost everything that defined her - the fancy Hamptons getaway, the sprawling Fifth Avenue penthouse, the social status, the philanthropic causes. She lost her son Danny (Alden Ehrenreich), who was so humiliated by his father’s arrest that he quit college and left home in a rage
Jasmine even loses her mind. Pursued by persistent whispers that she must have known about her husband’s shady dealings, she flees to the West Coast in the throes of a nervous breakdown. She’s horrified by her sister’s working-class lifestyle, starts drinking too much and passes judgment on everyone she meets. Eventually, reality starts to settle in: A pampered trophy wife for much of her life, Jasmine realises she has no marketable skills or job experience. She doesn’t even know how to use a computer
Jasmine’s disruptive intrusion into the lives of her sister and her boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale), her manic delusions and her arrogant sense of entitlement are all evocative of A Streetcar Named Desire, an obvious inspiration here. And Blanchett, who previously played Blanche DuBois onstage to great acclaim, attacks the role of Jasmine with a feral intensity. This troubled woman has disdain and snobbery engrained in her genes: When she’s forced to take a job as a receptionist at a dentist’s office, her humiliation is palpable (Allen turns the screws by making the dentist, played by Michael Stuhlbarg, a leering creep). When she meets a suave, rich widower (Peter Sarsgaard) who aspires to run for political office, she sees a way out of her unstable situation. Her new beau promises glamour, wealth, travel. So what if she must lie about every aspect of her life to keep him from running away?
Blue Jasmine is filled with terrific performances, including Hawkins as the sweet-natured Ginger, a woman raising two kids who works at a grocery store and is content with the simplicity of her life, until hurricane Jasmine blows in, upending everything. In a small but critical role, Andrew Dice Clay is a revelation as Ginger’s blue-collar ex-husband, rocking a Members Only jacket to Jasmine’s silent disgust and punching holes through the affected pomposity of the privileged in a blunt but honest manner
The standup comedian, Louis C.K., shines in a brief appearance as one of the men drawn by Jasmine’s beauty and lulled by her lies. Another is Peter Sarsgaard as the man of substance Jasmine desires, yet her escalating psychosis may chase away. And who could be better as an oily financier than Alec Baldwin, with his cold eyes and breezy charm?
But when we’re talking about Blue Jasmine, we’re really talking about Blanchett, who - and this is no exaggeration - gives one of the greatest screen performances of the century. To say that she is Oscar worthy would not do her justice, not when we remember what actually wins Oscars. Blanchett’s performance is one for the ages
Her eyes shining, makes Jasmine at once ardent, touching, off-putting, and cracked in her grand delusions. It’s an awesome mood ring of a performance, with an emotional fusion of pleasure and despair that’s true to the lyrical tragedy of the original Blanche. As long as she’s in her gilded cage, Jasmine is a woman of leisure who blinds herself to what’s going on. But once she’s tossed out of the cage, she has nothing, which is why her defining feature is her snobbery: When she talks about how she can’t imagine doing ”menial” labor, it sounds haughty as hell, but when she lands work as a dentist’s assistant, shuffling papers, Blanchett truly makes you feel how the job, at least in her mind, is hell
Blanchett in “Blue Jasmine” is beyond brilliant, beyond analysis. This is jaw-dropping work, what we go to the movies hoping to see, and we do. Every few years!