‘I’ ON CULTURE
We finally caught up with Woody Allen’s latest movie, Blue Jasmine, and it is an exceptional film. Allen, who has turned out a lot of interesting but not terribly brilliant pictures in the past few years, reaches incredible heights with this one. He takes one of the regular genre types and turns it on its ear. There are many films about the lower classes mingling with the upper ones. Eliza Doolittle of My Fair Lady fame is probably the best example. And generally, we see the upper classes mocking the pretensions of the lower class.
Allen does the opposite. Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), the widow of a multimillionaire financier/criminal, has lost everything. In flashbacks, we see her with Hal (Alec Baldwin) living the high life. They have a Fifth Avenue apartment, a fancy house in the Hamptons and a seemingly perfect life. Now, with everything gone, she flies to San Francisco to stay with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) and her family in a tiny apartment. Ginger has not had an easy life. She bags groceries at the supermarket and does a bit of waitressing. Her first husband, Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), is a handyman/builder, and she is getting ready to have her mechanic boyfriend, Chili (Bobby Cannavale) move in. Instead, she gets Jasmine.
Jasmine is a complete narcissist, living on Planet Jasmine. No matter what happens, it is never her fault, and she creates new realities to meet her own needs. Along the way, she ignores the needs of everyone else and generally winds up damaging them. She is a woman in the middle of a nervous breakdown who takes it out on everyone. And along the way, she offends everyone and mocks their lack of success. Yet it is those with wealth who lie, betray others and are the pretentious ones. The people she mocks are generally kind and generous.
Blanchett gives a brilliant portrayal of this truly terrible woman, making you actually care about her. It is a bravura performance, winning raves and predictions of an Oscar. She is totally self-centered, rude and uncaring, yet Blanchett ably demonstrates her vulnerability. She is a very complex person; she damages everyone as she moves through their lives, but she is the person whom she crushes most. We should hate and despise her, yet her plight moves us. The movie centers on her, moving between the past and present as Allen gradually pulls away all the levels of deception to reveal how she had re-created her own history, losing track of the damage she has done. She is so real that many people feel they know others who are just like her; those who wonder whether they are like her differ because she would never question her own behavior.
The rest of the cast is also superb. Sally Hawkins as the much simpler sister, the one whose chance at happiness in her first marriage was destroyed by Hal and Jasmine, is excellent as the real survivor. Jasmine tries to break up her relationship with the mechanic. She brings Ginger to a fancy party where she meets a man who will use and betray her (Louis C.K.). She then realizes that as limited as the mechanic is, he loves her and she loves him. Thus, she is the wise one. And Cannavale manages to be both crude and endearing. Clay, as the ex-husband, gives an exceptional performance as the one person who manages to pay Jasmine back for the damage she had done.
At a time when many people are having to cut back and reassess their futures, the movie is timely. Jasmine has no useful economic skills. She decides she might be an interior designer if she could take courses for which she has no money, and then decides online courses might be good, if only she were computer literate. She cannot compete except through lies. On the other hand, the “common people” are the survivors. They have skills, and they have learned to enjoy their pleasures. Jasmine looks down on them, insults them. They return decency and generosity.
This is a really fine film. Allen, who can reach great heights, has managed it again. His “comedy of manners” is different from the usual ones. Regular people are those whom we have to learn from. Jasmine will never learn, will forever be tripped up by her own self-centeredness. And with Blanchett giving one of the best performances I have seen in a long time, Blue Jasmine is a winner.