2013 - 98 minutes
Written and directed by: Woody Allen
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin, Bobby Cannavale, Andrew Dice Clay, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Sthulbarg, Louis C.K.
Strong performances and signature snappy Woody Allen banter elevate “Blue Jasmine” to watchable, though ultimately it’s a character study that isn’t very interested in its characters. Its main goal seems to daze the audience with a forced string of hookup and breakup comedy/drama, mixed with some ripped-from-the-headlines financial crises, to foster some sort of phony emotional attachment. The characters are merely cyphers – which isn’t automatically a bad thing, but here there isn’t a greater purpose in their paradigm.
Wrecked financially and emotionally, Jasmine (a virtuoso performance from Cate Blanchett) flees her socialite haven of New York after her cheating – financially and otherwise – husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) is busted by the FBI. He’s the kind of financial wizard who grows his net worth while making others’ investments disappear.
Popping pills and occasionally babbling to herself, Jasmine looks for a fresh start in San Francisco, using her co-adoptive sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) for a place to stay. Her apartment is supposed to be small and rundown, but actually appears quite large and very nice, certainly costing thousands of dollars a month in one of the country’s most expensive cities. Of course it’s common for movie characters to live well beyond their means, but in a film that deals with class status so heavy handedly it struck me as especially out of place for a grocery clerk to live there.
Flashbacks show Jasmine’s previous life in New York (or Park Avenue, to be exact), the Hamptons, the summer home, etc. that bring us up to narrative speed along the way. These interludes coupled with Jasmine’s progressively worsening mental state could’ve made for excellent theater, but Allen doesn’t seem to care about that. He uses the structure to introduce a string of characters that add little to the central drama. Ginger has three razor-thin romantic relationships: an ex-husband played by Andrew Dice Clay, current boyfriend Bobby Cannavale - another lovable working-class stiff who wears a shirt with is name stitched on it, and Louis C.K. offers a brief diversion.
Meanwhile, Jasmine fends off the uncomfortable advances from her dentist boss, and then quickly latches on to Peter Sarsgaard’s Dwight, who has a promising career and could be another potential monetary caretaker. His character is the one I bought the least; a recently deceased wife isn’t enough to make him fall so hard so fast for a woman that clearly has issues. She can put on a brave face at times, but downing Xanax as you’re proposing marriage is probably a red flag.
All of these characters are just strands to weave situational comedy into a story that would’ve greatly benefitted with more focus on Blanchett’s descent. The only players who come off as less than superfluous are Ginger and Andrew Dice Clay’s Augie who have a few sweet and sour meaningful moments. But they, like everyone else, have no arc.
In the end, Jasmine ends up exactly where she began only with smeared makeup, a slightly more vacant stare, and a less interested audience (both on-screen and in the theater).
© 2013 by Blake Crane