Blue Jasmine Movie Review

Featuring: Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin, Andrew Dice Clay, Peter Sarsgaard
Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
Australian release date: Thursday 12th September

Reviewers’ verdicts:
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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11 thoughts on “Blue Jasmine Movie Review”

  1. I’m glad you liked it enough to write a detailed review, rolanstein. I just kept rolling my eyes as I thought about it! There were potentially some huge ideas about class, fate, and personal responsibility – not to mention gender relations – but Woody just doesn’t seem to have the chops to grapple with them. And if he doesn’t, then he should stick to the main event. The bit about the dentist boss was ludicrous; Jasmine could well have failed at that job on her own merit, as it were, without such an important issue (workplace harassment) being raised in inappropriate comic style. I only want to give one example of what frustrated me about this film, or I’ll slip back into eye-rolling mode. And I’ve got a roast in the oven, seeya!

  2. Hey Karen, seems to me your stubborn and I think ridiculous bias against Woody has blinded you to the great stuff in this movie. As usual with anything he does, you focus only on the things you dislike – actually, you seem to waste your viewing energy on actively looking for fault! Isn’t that a little, erm, self-defeating? Whatever, your loss, I say.

    For me, everything you’ve picked on is small bickies and peripheral to the main focus here – which is surely the character of Jasmine! It’s sorta weird, your downer on Woody, because you’re generally fairly open in your responses to films. What’s it really about? His personal life? ie: cradle-snatching Soon-Yi?

    You’re not alone. Pomeranz can’t get past her anti-Woody bias, either. Must be a female thang.

    Anyway…hope no one reading this takes any notice of ya! So there.

    Cheers and harumph

  3. Having acknowledged Blanchett’s fine performance and the nifty double-duty structure (serving narrative and characterisation), I find it a little unfair that you accuse me of only watching to find fault. In fact I was dead keen to see this film and fully prepared to love it. But it didn’t merit love, and I only felt disappointed that he had lazily washed over big themes that could, with a more discerning script, have supported rather than detracted from the main event, which was, of course, as you say, the character of Jasmine.

    I don’t subscribe to the cult of Woody, no. I was glad the irritating speech mannerisms he usually has going on in his films were absent from Blue Jasmine. (Does he direct his actors to do this, or do they unconsciously impersonate his film persona?) As for his personal life, there are worse arseholes in the film industry, and I have boycotted their films.

    But, “female thang”? Dude. Don’t get me started.

    Finally, I think it would be a shame for people who love cinema to miss this performance by Cate Blanchett. I hope I made it clear that it is the best thing in Blue Jasmine.

    ST to you too. Cheers,

  4. What a sordid little film. It dislikes people so much, and no wonder if their lives are full of betrayal, lies and infidelity as in this movie. The class stuff is just so much Allen sleight-of-hand. He always does something like that, in an unabashedly glaringly obvious way, as if that were the point. But it’s just a game, as when he makes the fiancee in Midnight in Paris unbelievably ghastly. Does it ring true? No and who cares? He’s a distraction thief, and usually carries it off with gay indifference.It’s a bit like D. H. Lawrence in ‘The Captain’s Doll’. Lawrence doesn’t like Hepburn’s wife, she’s inconvenient, and so in one line gets he kills her off, just like that: ‘She fell out of the window.’

    Allen’s greatest ability is to make comic fantasy out of people’s damaged fantasies. At his best, he gets the balance of tragi-comedy perfectly. A good example is Annie Hall in the scene where the little Woody – 9 years or or so, carrot hair, glasses – is depressed, much to the dismay of his mother who hauls in a shrink:

    Mother: What are you depressed?
    Little Woody: Because the universe is expanding.
    Mother: That’s none of your business.

    And they’re both right. But in Blue Jasmine the fantasies reap grimly. No one is seriously going to buy the fantasy (Allen has a bit of fun – though not humour – with this – it’s distraction thief stuff) of the too-true blue-collar guys. Likewise, the lack of realism of Jasmine being a computer-illiterate dental receptionist is beside the point. What’s real is the ugly futility of human behaviour in a blighted world. Cate Blanchett lapped up this role, as a certain kind of stage actor does. To show the pain, the pain the pain, oh dear, the human condition, oh dear, a chance to act a little mad. She could do it in her sleep, she’s that kind of actor. There are actors who are cold. Among the women I’d include Meryl Streep, Tilda Swinton, Emma Thompson and Blanchett. Even as they act their socks off in the name of the Actor’s Studio, they remain cold. It’s quite an interesting phenomenon. Do we have any sympathy for her, or anyone else in the film? No, because the universe is expanding, and it’s none of our business. The futility of and in the film was painful. Worse, it was not in the least entertaining, which is the film’s primary duty.

  5. Welcome, Con. Good to have another take, well-articulated.

    Thing is, I relate so little to your observations that I don’t see much percentage in taking up many of the points you make. We might as well have been watching a different film. I’m sure Karen will have more common ground with you, though.

    Agree re the “cold actors” you mention. Interesting, actually – it so happens that I regard all the women you identify as overrated. No coincidence, I think. I’m not an intellectual creature. I don’t like detachment. I want immersion, on-screen and off. And if a movie or acting performance doesn’t engage me emotionally, I lose interest.

    Thing is, I did have sympathy for Blanchett’s character in this one – and her sister! And Woody (I think he wrote the Jasmine character in blood) – and, by extension, moi!

    Not entertaining? Well, I suppose it depends on your idea of what that is. For me, well, as long as I’m not bored at a flick, or irritated by incompetence, or angry at feeling exploited, I’m entertained. I gotta say, I found Blanchett’s performance – and the film in general – riveting and affecting! AND, I did not see it as “sordid” in the least. In fact, I find that choice of summarising descriptor baffling. Still, it’s good to have someone other than Karen to agree to disagree with, and I’m sure she’ll feel similarly. Do call again.


  6. Thanks for the response, Con. God knows where Woody receives his ideas about class, and the worlds of adult education and dental reception.

    I have to disagree with you about Cate Blanchett. I think she is a superb actor. I remember seeing her in a television series decades ago (with Ernie Dingo, can’t recall the name of the show) and thinking then that she had an extraordinary screen presence. Nothing since then has made me change my mind. Re her performance in Blue Jasmine, I can only say again it is a shame it was surrounded by well acted, poorly conceived stock characters.


  7. I was quite curious about Ginger’s house. Was it meant to be appealing or unappealing? The camera lingered on it, and there was one moment when it zoomed in on a painting of a sweet little house (as I recall) on the wall. I felt Ginger’s house was ‘intimate’ – in fact, the only intimacy in the film. ‘Unaccommodated man’ – I forget where that’s from, but it strikes a chord. People couldn’t be accommodated in the film/world. The film lacked the heat that can be generated by the fruitful friction caused by edgy comedy, because there wasn’t any. It was a cold film, and in that sense, at least, Blanchett was perfect – I’ve no doubt Allen saw it like a shot. Rather like Kubrik in Eyes Wide Shut knowing exactly what he was doing with Cruise and Kidman.

  8. Ah, ‘unaccommodated man’ – it’s from King Lear.

    Thou art the thing itself:
    unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor bare,
    forked animal as thou art.

  9. I don’t think there’s much doubt Ginger’s house was meant to be appealing. It was modest but friendly-feeling and cluttered in a comfy, lived-in way. I agree with you, Con, that there was an ‘intimate’ sense about it: it was Ginger and kids’ inner sanctum. Don’t recall the house painting on the wall.

    Interesting thoughts re ‘unaccommodated man’ and I can see how you got to that from the film. I don’t agree that there was NO comedy in it – I scored a few chuckles/smirks on the way through. And although I can see why you say it’s a cold film, for me there was also a great humanity about it. The bleak end is a case in point – surely, an agonised cri de coeur from an ageing, despairing Woody. It certainly resonated with me.


  10. I guess as someone with plenty of agonized, despairing cri de coeurs of my own, I don’t especially want to go to the cinema for those of another. But I’m interested to know what you chuckle.

    Best, Con

  11. So you share my take on the end, but not my response? Just checking.

    Sheesh, I can’t remember what I found humorous now – saw the flick almost 5 weeks ago! Give a bloke with short term memory loss a break, puh-lease!

    Uh, hang on. When Jasmine complained that her Xanax “hasn’t kicked in yet for some reason” I snickered slightly and singly through one nostril (the other was blocked).

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