Title: Blue Jasmine
Director(s): Woody Allen
Release Year: 2013
It is not very often that I can get behind movies that attempt to have the viewer sympathize with “rich, white people problems” and because of this, movies like This is 40 and The Queen of Versailles fell flat for me. So knowing that Woody Allen’s next film was going to be a film about a woman going from riches to rags, there was already a barrier placed between me and the movie. Fortunately, Blue Jasmine has the ability to make you sympathize with, while also despising, Cate Blanchett’s character – a balance which makes for one of the most interesting character studies in film this year. Woody Allen’s love for the city is put on hold to craft a commentary on wealth, the people who have it, and why we hate those people. Most surprisingly though is the subdued “voice” of Allen which tends to be presented through some character in his films, but in Blue Jasmine is absent. All of the ways in which Allen restrains himself helps to create a compelling character drama that is filled to the brim with actors that deserve praise come awards season, and another knock-out female lead in an Allen film.
Jasmine (Blanchett) is your typical socialite: going to expensive restaurants, buying over-priced clothes, and living the lavish lifestyle of which many can only dream, all courtesy of marrying Hal (Alec Baldwin). When Hal’s economic decisions turn out to not be very legal, Jasmine flies to San Francisco to live with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), until she gets back on her feet. From there, the clash between the middle-class and the upper-class is laid on heavy, but not to an unbearable amount. As an observer, we hate Jasmine, not because she is rich, but because the richness has planted the idea that she is above having to work to get by, even when she is penniless and working is the best way to get out of her predicament. The real question is why I came out of Blue Jasmine feeling bad for Jasmine’s character, and that is why this is one of Allen’s best films as of late. Utilizing flashbacks, the film slowly reveals all the reasons to sympathize with Jasmine, and all the reasons not to do so, which I’m sure depends on your feelings on the external (and internal) forces working against Jasmine and whether they are responsible for her decisions.
One of the things that Woody Allen has always been able to do, and Blue Jasmine is no exception, is create a unique cast of characters, all of which give their best performances. Blanchett alone makes the film worth seeing, but even actors like Andrew Dice Clay and Louis CK give great performances (especially Clay, as Ginger’s ex-husband, and the voice of reason in the film). There’s a slew of other actors like Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Alec Baldwin, but out of all the male actors in the film, Bobby Cannavale is simply electric. He was not playing a role he has not done before, but it was still a very fun and engaging performance from him that made me wish he had a lot more screentime than he actually got. However, the lead is Cate Blanchett and her performance and character is another example of Woody Allen’s strengths: well-written, perfectly cast female characters. Blanchett balances the right amount of ignorance, arrogance, and restraint that gives the film tension as her character’s anxieties begin to come to light.
Blue Jasmine is at times claustrophobic because of Jasmine’s mental instability, and other times anger-inducing as she attempts to live through life as care-free as before she lost her wealth. The side characters are not merely quirky add-ins attempting to lighten the mood with no bearing to the situation at hand. Instead, every character is reacting and helping flesh out the character of Jasmine, whether that be through asking her questions about her life, or simply having a personality that opposes hers. Cannavale’s character is Jasmine’s antagonist and his interactions with her are both brutally honest and humorous, leading to the uncovering of Jasmine’s ambitions and what makes her tick. The humor is still here in Allen’s latest effort, but Blue Jasmine feels more like a Vicky Cristina Barcelona than a Midnight in Paris or Scoop, and the film benefits greatly from that distancing. The restraint shown in this film is the kind of restraint that Woody Allen has needed for quite some time in his writing, which is why it is so refreshing and relieving to see Blue Jasmine employ that self-control, leaving its actors with something to truly sink their teeth into and present some excellent performances.