Mark Reviews Movies

Blue Jasmine

BLUE JASMINE

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Woody Allen

Cast: Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin, Bobby Cannavale, Andrew Dice Clay, Peter Sarsgaard, Louis C.K., Michael Stuhlbarg

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material, language and sexual content)

Running Time: 1:38

Release Date: 7/26/13 (limited); 8/2/13 (wider)


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Review by Mark Dujsik | August 1, 2013

Her name wasn't always "Jasmine."  It's the name her husband thought suited her better than the one her parents gave her—plain, old "Jeanette."  She took to it, like she took to so many things about the man, and took it upon herself in the same way she took so much of who he was and what he did upon herself.

The origin of her name is only one of the many things we learn about Jasmine (Cate Blanchett, radiant but, in stark juxtaposition with her statuesque appearance, clearly damaged beyond all repair) in the beginning of Blue Jasmine.  In a series of scenes, we watch her talk the ear off a poor elderly woman (Joy Carlin) who has the misfortune of being seated next to her on a plane.  She talks for the entire flight and continues to go on about her life as the two make their way through the airport.

She met her husband while "Blue Moon" was playing, and the song always reminds her of him.  He made love better than any man she had ever known.  He gave her everything she ever wanted and could never have imagined wanting before she met him.  On and on she goes, and the woman, obviously bored but trying not to be rude, doesn't stop Jasmine as she reminisces about times gone by but plainly not forgotten—or apparently ever to be forgotten, for that matter.

There are two important pieces of information that we cannot obtain from Jasmine's account.  The first is that Jasmine was not actually engaged in a conversation with the lady next to her.  The woman reveals to her husband (Richard Conti) that Jasmine had been talking to herself; at one point, she, believe she was being spoken to, merely asked, "What?"

The second piece, which is revealed throughout the rest of writer/director Woody Allen's film, is that Jasmine fails to mention anything negative about her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin).  No amount of pain he caused her and others—let alone any federal indictment—is going to figure into the romanticized version of her story with him.

We only see Hal in flashbacks (Though he may still be present in Jasmine's mind, he is no longer in the present, having obtained a length of rope in prison—a small detail that speaks volumes about the kind of man he was), which Allen treats as far more objective records of their relationship.  Here is a man who repeatedly cheats on her and cheats others out of their money so that he can make questionable investments on their behalf.  He's a cad, a louse, and a no-good, rotten person whose only apparent virtue is an eye for real estate in New York City when it comes to where he's going to live.

Does Jasmine know this about her husband?  She comes to (very slowly) realize it as the flashbacks progress, but then the real question is whether or not she cares.  In the time before the revelation of Hal's illegal activity gets him into legal trouble, it's difficult to gauge Jasmine's feelings (She is, after all, still quite in love with the man and happy to be living the good life), but it is fair to say that, given the state she's in during the film's present-tense scenes, she does care by the time we meet her on that plane.

The plane is on its way to San Francisco, where Jasmine is planning to live with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) after the government seized all of Hal's—and her—possessions and finances (She never thought to have anything of her own).  Ginger is one of those people whose lives Hal ruined with his financial scheming.  She and Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), her husband at the time, gave him their lottery winnings—winnings that he had planned to use to start a business.  The two have since divorced, and she is currently dating Chili (Bobby Cannavale), whom Jasmine dislikes almost as much as, if not more than, Augie.

Both of these women refuse or are unable to see that they can do better than the men in their lives.  The reason seems to be self-imposed pressures each one puts on herself.  For Ginger, it's the feeling that she's somehow inferior to her older sister.  Both of them were adopted, and Ginger half-jokingly insists Jasmine is the one with the "good genes."  If she ever felt the need to live up to her sister's example, it's been shot down repeatedly over the years, so when a seemingly nice guy named Al (Louis C.K.) asks her to dance at a party, she doesn't think to consider that it's suspicious that he only wants to rendezvous with her in the middle of the day at a hotel room.  She only sees a nice guy who might finally live up—even if only partially so—to Jasmine's standards.

Jasmine, on the other hand, craves perfection, and her downfall—aside from the impossibility of the goal—is that she's more than willing to accept only the outward appearance of it.  We get a glimpse of that with her relationship with Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard), a handsome and erudite widower with political ambitions.  By the time she meets him, we know as much of the story of her marriage to Hal as the other characters who knew them can reveal (There's a major point that only Jasmine could know, and she has repressed it), so we know exactly how and why Jasmine starts the getting-to-know-you conversation with lie after little lie.

Blue Jasmine is an assured character study that grows richer and more sympathetic as it progresses.  Allen's screenplay and Blanchett's performance turn a character that begins as a caricature of social elitism into a vivid portrait of misery—a woman who cannot even depend on the kindness of the people she knows.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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