For The People’s Critic, perhaps the most anticipated moment of any cinematic calendar year is not the summer blockbusters or the fall awards-hungry films. It is the release of the latest Woody Allen film. With Blue Jasmine being his 41st film as writer/director in as many years, the always reliable, always prolific auteur has earned the respect of The People’s Critic as a living legend. The Brooklyn-born neurotic genius shows no signs of running out of steam at the age of 77 with Blue Jasmine being one of his most insightful and finely-tuned films of his career.
Have you ever wondered who that blabbering stranger is who sits next to you on an air plane or who that mumbling nut-case is who sits next to you on a park bench? These are quite possibly the questions that inspired Allen’s latest film. The film’s title refers to Jasmine French (Cate Blanchett), a modern American socialite who suffers a life crisis when her financial investor husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), turns out to be a white-collar crook in the vein of Bernie Madoff. Jasmine’s story is told as a fractured storyline flashing back and forth to Jasmine’s life before and after her impending ruin. Allen handles these juxtapositions flawlessly, carefully crafting the triggers that send the story hurdling back and forth.
Allen’s film may be contextually set within the confines of financial crisis; however, the film is actually about trust and fate. The strength of the story rests on the complex and fractured relationship between two adopted sisters, Jasmine and Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Jasmine and Ginger were separately adopted, raised together, but fate sent them on wildly different paths. The film opens with a freshly ruined Jasmine leaving New York to live with Ginger in San Francisco. The transition is not an easy one for her, and Ginger’s low-middle class lifestyle disgusts Jasmine. What complicates things even more is that Ginger and her now ex-husband, Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) were victims of Jasmine’s husband and lost everything. Jasmine is mindful of this tension and it is a testament to Blanchett’s ability in how strongly she plays a victim who is also a victimizer! Allen explores this element throughout the film while also examining Jasmine’s sense of entitlement regardless of the fact that she has no skills and simply fell into wealth; we even learn that even her name is false as she changed it from Jeanette to Jasmine because she thought Jeanette “lacked panache.”
Furthermore, trust is a dynamic issue presented in the film. While mostly known for his impeccable ability to create fascinating female characters (and Blue Jasmine is no exception), Allen also presents the damage of deception through his uncharacteristically diverse set of male characters. Bobby Cannavale is especially indicative of this as Ginger’s current boyfriend, Chili. Michael Stuhlbarg, Louis C.K., and Peter Sarsgaard join Cannavale and Dice Clay in developing the vital effect of trust, or lack thereof, on the human condition.
When one looks at the career and accomplishments of Woody Allen, one sees the maturation of an artist, of a genius. It is this maturation of Allen’s techniques, subject matter, and films in general that I find most interesting. And it is fitting that Blue Jasmine is probably most comparable with one of Allen’s most mature films, Crimes and Misdemeanors as both films utilize his broad knowledge of literature and film as well as exploring a whole range of moral ambiguities while accomplishing the difficult task of combining comedy with drama. Cate Blanchett is poised to enter the Oscar race swinging as is Allen’s screenplay. Blanchett is clearly the film’s major talking point and she delivers a tragic performance worthy of much discussion. I can only imagine how Ruth Madoff feels about this one. A
Blue Jasmine is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 1 hour and 38 minutes. This is another solid film in Allen’s storied career that is sure to illicit emotion while also emitting a slightly disturbing tone.
Since my name lacks panache, I may need to change it to Jasmine in order to have some juxtapositions.