Published on January 24th, 2014 | by Clint Davis
Blue Jasmine 
Summary: Woody Allen creates one of his greatest, most tragic figures in Jasmine Francis and Cate Blanchett leaves it all on the screen in her intense performance. Another solid, difficult drama from film's most prolific director.
PG-13 | 98 min.
Director & Screenplay: Woody Allen
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin
Studio: Gravier Productions | Distribution: Sony Pictures Classics
Seeing a Woody Allen film for the first time is the motion picture equivalent to listening to a Bob Dylan song you’ve yet to hear. You know the contents will articulate some painful feelings or emotions you’ve likely had a few times over but would rather not think about. Both men make us look at painful truths–and neither have lost a step, now well into their seventies.
Blue Jasmine, Woody’s latest, continues the unbelievable streak of original work he’s been on for most of our lifetimes. The last year in which Woody Allen didn’t release a new film was 1981 and some years he’s released two, giving him 34 movies in the last 32 years. I don’t have a statistician on staff but I don’t think anyone aside from possibly Alfred Hitchcock has ever had a stretch that productive in Hollywood history. And as long as I’m still able to see a screen, I’ll be in the audience.
As his longtime collaborator Diane Keaton said in her Golden Globes speech honoring Woody this year, the hallmark of his post-Annie Hall career has been the outstanding female characters he’s created. Jasmine Francis belongs right at the top of that list.
Cate Blanchett stars as the titular character, in one of the most authentic performances of her already storied career. Jasmine’s story is told linearly and through flashbacks as we get to know the character’s path to her current state. Once the socialite wife of a wealthy real estate magnate, we find her moving in with estranged sister Ginger (2008 Golden Globe winner Sally Hawkins), penniless and mentally unstable. The pair reconnect as Jasmine tries to get back on her feet while simultaneously making Ginger reconsider her own choices, including her relationship with the volatile everyman Chili (Bobby Cannavale).
Jasmine is the most challenging character I saw onscreen in 2013. At first you’ll find her quirky and a bit overbearing, then selfish and ungrateful and finally tragic as you sympathize with her at the end. Blanchett’s shows us a range of moods and also does some of the most convincing drunk acting I’ve ever seen–in certain scenes the glazed-over look in her eyes makes you wonder if Woody just handed her a bottle of Stoli and told her to have fun. In Jasmine, we see Blanchett at her most elegant and ugly–on the outside, we see a gorgeous, statuesque woman but on the inside, things aren’t so well put together. I also wouldn’t call Jasmine a likable figure, that description fits Ginger better, but we see her as a dynamic human being and that’s what provides the empathy we give her at the movie’s dark, uncertain conclusion.
Aside from Alec Baldwin and Peter Sarsgaard, who play Jasmine’s love interests, the supporting cast of Blue Jasmine is mostly made up of television actors and comedians. Louis C.K. pops up for a few scenes as an alternate love interest for Ginger, Boardwalk Empire‘s Cannavale and Michael Stuhlbarg are strong as characters that annoy Jasmine to no end and most surprising is Andrew Dice Clay who gives a low-key turn as Ginger’s hard-luck ex-husband Augie. Maybe it’s because of his own real life tumbles after his early-’90s heyday but Clay is heartfelt and believable as one of the story’s most relatable characters.
As always with a Woody movie, Blue Jasmine examines the complicated relationships between men and women–but this one is most occupied with the awkward dynamic between adult family members, especially ones that share no blood. Ginger is extremely forgiving of the strife Jasmine has caused her over the years and her bitterness occasionally comes through but is usually only verbalized by her various lovers.
Chili particularly pulls no punches in letting Jasmine know how he feels–saying things the audience likely wishes they could yell through the projector! His character is reminiscent of Stanley Kowalski, the all-time blue collar man’s man, he flies off the handle in one pivotal scene, breaking things while yelling and all the time wearing his uniform from the auto body shop where he works.
Mental health is also a prominent theme of this movie. It’s revealed Jasmine has undergone shock therapy after the dissolution of her marriage–providing a difficult explanation to her habit of carrying on entire conversations aloud with herself. This short line of exposition, which she admits to her young nephews while drinking a glass of wine and watching them at Chuck E. Cheese’s, also provides a pivotal moment that allows the audience to feel for her despite her many flaws.
I’m not sure Woody Allen tells us anything we don’t already know in Blue Jasmine, but rather gives us a lesson in withholding judgement on other people’s situations. Jasmine loves to pass judgement on Ginger and the other people in her life, alienating nearly all of them by the conclusion, and the audience will pass judgement on her (at one point I told my wife, “Jasmine will get what’s coming to her by the end of this thing,”) until we can’t help but feel sorry for her. Aside from possibly Baldwin’s dishonest character, nobody really gets their comeuppance in this story, rather the characters make their own choices and are left to simmer in the aftermath.