Featuring: Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin, Andrew Dice Clay, Peter Sarsgaard
Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
Australian release date: Thursday 12th September
rolanstein: One of Woody’s great character studies – and his most tragic – with a superb performance from Cate Blanchett to match.
Karen: Nearly, but not, great.
Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) is a snooty member of New York’s indulgent wealthy set, having married into big bucks, while her foster sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) is a struggling single mother who lives in a modest San Francisco apartment with her two young sons. Their starkly contrasting worlds converge when Jasmine’s marriage abruptly ends, her bubble of privilege bursts, and she is forced to stay with Ginger and begin working for a living.
Review 1: (rolanstein)
Dramas tackling class differences are notoriously prone to character stereotyping; Blue Jasmine is no exception. And in typical style, writer/director Woody Allen aims his most withering satirical shots at the ‘upper class’ (in America’s terms, the rich). Fine by me.
Jasmine and her female New York socialite set are presented for the most part as vacuous, indolent, pampered elitists, who wile away their time wining and dining in exclusive restaurants or at dos for the privileged, expensively and extravagantly styling themselves and/or their opulent abodes, or accepting diamond and gold trinkets from hubbies with wide-eyed oohs and aaahs. The males of this species are of course smoothly dressed and spoken, careerist high-flyers who bring home serious bacon by fair means or foul – the latter in the case of Jasmine’s husband Hal, whose dishonesty and deception also extends to serial philandering.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, Ginger and her cronies are depicted as unpretentious salt-of-the-earth types, content with their modest lot. Ginger is ingenuous and vulnerable, wearing her heart on her sleeve and falling for the ‘wrong guys’ time after time, although not necessarily disastrously in her eyes. See, these guys live and love in bold colour – that’s the compensation for their uncouthness and crudeness (which is caricatured with some relish by Woody). They are not big on social graces, but on the upside, they’re honest, saying what they feel. They work hard all week in blue collar jobs, and on weekends tuck into pizzas and beer while watching da game on TV wid der buddies. When the time comes for the little woman, they’re passionate lovers. And fiercely possessive, violently so if a rival emerges. Nothin’ like that sorta primitive affirmation of worth for a gal like Ginger…
Stereotypes aside, as expected there is some enjoyable Woodyesque pisstaking in this material, with plenty of wry smirks to be had and a few good chuckles. Unexpectedly, however, his main game here is not comedy and social satire, but tragedy in the person of Jasmine.
This is not so much a film about class, then, as it is a character study – a brilliant and disturbing one. Woody is back at the top of his game with this characterisation of Jasmine. His psychological profiling is astute and masterfully managed. For example, after her privileged life falls to pieces and she moves in with Ginger, the two are similarly placed socially and financially, yet Jasmine lives in denial, retaining a sense of superiority and lording it over her sister. She liberally hands out advice and character analyses of Ginger better applicable to herself. Classic and utterly credible projection, a shrink’s wet dream.
Where Ginger learns by her mistakes (which are the result of following Jasmine’s strident advice), Jasmine is incapable of self-knowledge, sinking deeper and deeper into self-deception, and ultimately a desperate, delusional state she prefers to confronting the chasm between her self-image and the reality of who she is. It’s profoundly sad and wrenching stuff, painful to watch.
If Woody has excelled himself with his characterisation of Jasmine, more credit still must go to Cate Blanchett for her stunning performance. When an actor as talented as Blanchett immerses herself in a tortured character like this and puts herself out there as courageously as she does here, holding back nothing – nothing – well…the words of a mere critic are doomed to fall feebly short. So I’ll simply declare unreservedly that if you get off on great acting you won’t want to miss this performance of Blanchett’s. And I say that as someone who considers her a little overrated, generally.
While the incandescent Blanchett leaves the other actors gasping for oxygen, the performances are good all round, Sally Hawkins in particular doing a terrific job in the supporting role of Ginger.
The screenplay has a few weak moments, with some instances early on of ham-fisted expositionary dialogue. And a contemporary character with Jasmine’s background being computer illiterate? Hmmm. But criticisms like these are petty in the context of this film.
Blue Jasmine is Woody laid emotionally bare. He bleeds for Jasmine, as does Blanchett. There is great empathy and pathos at work in their collaborative creation of the character. And yet, the treatment meted out to her is ultimately brutal, stranding her in tragic limbo and leaving the drama with nowhere to go. Nowhere cathartic, at least. But perhaps that’s the point. Perhaps Woody is struggling to find a happy ending or a dramatic resolution of any kind in the great theatre of the cosmos as the pounding on mortality’s door gets ever louder.
He’s not alone there, if that’s any comfort. Which it’s not. So what more to do than go on doing what he knows best? When he gets it mostly right, as on this occasion, the results – occasional unevenness notwithstanding – are something to treasure. Don’t miss.
Review 2: (Karen)
Have I said this before? That if Woody Allen were at film school and presented his script his teacher may well ask him to clarify his ideas and redraft? Somewhere in Blue Jasmine is a great film trying to get out; as it is, the light comedic style and jazzy riffs are a mismatch for a tragic character study interpreted by one of the great actresses of our time.
The story of Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), forced to stay with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) after being reduced to poverty by her husband’s criminal financial dealings, is set against the recent history of the global financial crisis, and the great historical myth of American culture that you can be anything you want, and that you make your own fortune both literally and figuratively.
Jasmine is the embodiment of the myth. She has invented herself: given herself a new name, married money, and surrounded herself with beautiful garments and accessories. Ginger, previously married to odd-job man Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), and now nearly engaged to Chili (Bobby Cannavale), believes that Jasmine “got the good genes” and this accounts for her fortunes in life; but Jasmine says Ginger chooses losers because she doesn’t believe she deserves any better. Much is made of the fact that the two sisters were both adopted, but this is not only completely irrelevant to the story, it’s an annoying red herring.
The real guts of the tale is what Jasmine understood of her husband’s criminality, and this, along with the depths of psychological distress she has plumbed since his ruin, is gradually revealed in flashbacks. It’s a neat device because these sequences don’t just tell the story to the audience – they are also being re-ravelled in Jasmine’s memory. And it is problematic to remember the truth, because if you are the architect of your own fortune, whom do you blame when it all goes wrong?
Blanchett is fearless in her portrayal of a woman who, effortlessly beautiful in her salad days, is reduced to a babbling, staring wreck when her work to reestablish herself is derailed by her past. It’s a virtuoso performance that lifts this film into something that’s almost great. But everything that is peripheral to her story is so trite – the working-class buffoons, the importunate dentist boss, heart-of-gold Ginger, even crooked Hal – that the whole falls short. It’s a crying shame.
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