Woody Allen’s new dramedy Blue Jasmine is an astute dramatic character study, a timely commentary on a ‘Madoff’ inspired crook, as well as a ‘clash of the cultures’ comedy. Both funny and tragic, Allen has once again opened the curtain in revealing the most intimate moments of people of various walks of life. The acting is great and the writing is strong. While there are some minor issues in pacing and the film won’t be converting any non-fans, admirers of the writer/director should be more than pleased with his new outing.
Elegant New York socialite Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) is living the high-life with her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin), an incredibly wealthy businessman. Jasmine’s life falls to pieces after Hal is convicted of a ‘ponzi-esque’ scheme and all of the couple’s assets are seized. With nowhere else to go, Jasmine moves into her sister Ginger’s (Sally Hawkins) modest apartment in San Francisco and tries to pull her life back together. But Jasmine has a hard time giving up her fancy ways. She flies first-class from NYC to San Fran even though she’s bankrupt. Ginger asks “How did you fly first-class? You don’t have any money.” “I don’t know, I just did”, Jasmine replies. She also tips the taxi driver $100 for carrying her luggage. Jasmine is in denial of her situation, refusing to step down from the lifestyle she has grown accustomed to. She also feels the need to keep up appearances by toting around expensive jewelry and Louis Vuitton pocketbooks which she could easily sell to get the money she so desperately needs.
Meanwhile, Ginger’s ex-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), is bitter and holds a major grudge against Jasmine over Hal losing the $200,000 Augie had won in a lottery game. The largest amount of money Augie had ever seen in his life, he planned to use his fortune to start his own business until the manipulative Hal convinced him to invest it. A humorous scene shows the blue-collar Augie interacting with Hal, Jasmine and their upper-echelon friends. Neither Augie nor Ginger (who is adopted and not Jasmine’s biological sister) belong in this world; they’re too genuine.
The film lays out its plot by jumping back and forth between past and present. This structure doesn’t work seamlessly, as the flow and pacing of the movie are hindered at times; but it was probably the only way to tell this story. The details of Jasmine’s former life of wealth need to slowly be revealed in order to understand her behavior in the present. This method helps develop intrigue and adds to the mystery of the relationship between characters; with their dynamics making more sense as events unfold. Sequencing the film in such a way also allows for a final plot twist that changes some things we thought we knew. No spoilers, but the twist paves the way for a somewhat downbeat ending, albeit a clever one.
The acting is fantastic across the board, as is to be expecting from a Woody Allen movie. He truly is an ‘actor’s director’ and consistently manages to bring out the best performances from his casts. Boozing and pill popping throughout, Cate Blanchett is Oscar-worthy in the title role. Many scenes feature the broken down Jasmine spaced out and babbling to herself in public. This could have come across silly in the hands of a lesser actress but Blanchett sells this material in a convincingly bleak matter. Alec Baldwin can play a white-collar or blue-collar guy with equal aplomb. He’s sleazy and charming at the same time. Sally Hawkins’ Ginger is arguably the only likable and decent character in the film, though not without her flaws. She displays her good heartedness by taking in the down on her luck Jasmine, even though Jasmine wasn’t nearly as kind to Ginger back when things were going well. It’s a true testament to one’s character to treat someone with respect even when they don’t necessarily deserve it. Hawkins is very good in the role.
This film contains one of Allen’s more cynical observations of people in his pessimistic depiction of human nature. It’s hard to feel sympathy for Jasmine in her crisis as she isn’t a particularly nice person. She’s vapid and values material things over people. But, in a true testament to Blanchett’s performance, she’s so distraught over her dilemma that you can’t help but feel sorry for her anyway. Just about every male character is a either a liar, a cheater, or an idiot. Bobby Cannavale and Louis C.K. both play potential suitors of Hawkins’ character. Cannavale gives one of the funnier performances in the movie as a dopey underachiever. He means well, but is perhaps a bit too candid when divulging into the details of Jasmine’s crisis. Disappointingly, Louis C.K. only has about five minutes of screen time. As a big fan of C.K.’s standup and his FX show Louie, the prospect of him appearing in a Woody Allen film was an exciting one. Unfortunately, we only get a slight idea of what an Allen/C.K. collaboration might look like. While his character is probably the closest anyone gets to playing ‘Woody’ in the film, his extended cameo as an unassuming gentleman turned sexual deviant is somewhat a waste.
In addition to perfectly utilizing established actors, Allen has the perceptive gift of seeing talent in ways that no one else has and knowing what to do with it. Andrew Dice Clay has acted in very few films. He’s better known as his ‘Diceman’ alter-ego, a filthy and misogynistic stand-up comic. Well, the ‘Diceman’ can act. Like C.K., the prospect of Andrew Dice Clay in a Woody Allen movie is both intriguing and strange. However, Clay’s presence isn’t as surreal or disconcerting as you might think. He actually fits in quite well playing against type, and delivers a particular strong monologue in his final scene in the film.
Blue Jasmine has a lot on its mind, with Woody Allen conveying a myriad of interesting and timely ideas. While it’s certainly more of a drama than a comedy, the first half of the film is consistently humorous until it enters darker territory towards the end. The film is worth seeing for the performances alone, but Allen’s screenplay is also full of clever plot points. While there are a few spots where the film drags, for the most part it’s engaging. It certainly isn’t among Allen’s best films, but it is one of his more thought-provoking discourses in recent years.