Movie Review: Why so blue, Jasmine?

Who would have guessed that after six decades and nearly four dozen films (most excellent, some cinematic masterpieces) that Woody Allen could still outdo himself? That is the case with his latest “dramedy” Blue Jasmine.

Loosely based on A Streetcar Named Desire, the film revolves around a former New York socialite named Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) whose husband Hal (Alec Baldwin, as sleazy as ever), a venture capitalist who embezzled every cent his clients gave him, commits suicide in prison and leaves his wife homeless and without a penny to her name. This financial crisis, however, doesn’t seem to deter Jasmine from flying (naturally) first class to San Francisco to stay with her estranged sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins) until she can get back on her feet.

The movie follows Jasmine’s attempts to find out what she should do with the rest of her life. She’s never had to work, never completed college and never thought she’d ever have to do either of these things in order to survive. Instead of returning to school to complete her degree in anthropology, she decides to become an interior designer by taking online classes. However, until she can do that she must take classes on how to use a computer.

Obviously there is something wrong with this woman. The fact that she has a complete nervous breakdown after her husband’s arrest, takes several doses of what she calls “Edison’s Medicine” (ECT), and pops Xanax like candy while swilling back glass after glass of Stoli doesn’t help her mental state much. This sounds very much like tragedy, however in the case of the best Woody Allen, tragedy is a great place to mine comedy.

Jasmine does not come off as a likable character—in fact, no one in the cast comes across entirely sympathetic—so one doesn’t feel strange laughing at the often cringe worthy situations these people get themselves into. We cannot even pity Ginger as she keeps making the same bad life choices repeatedly. And yet even with these poor excuses for people onscreen, we are nonetheless drawn to them. Perhaps this is because even with all their faults they are still unequivocally human and played brilliant by the cast, none more so than Blanchett’s Jasmine.

What makes the performance so extraordinary is that Jasmine is not only unsympathetic, but not even remotely a likeable character. She is a narcissistic, Xanax popping, drunken hot mess. And yet, when she’s on screen (which is about 95% of the time), we are drawn to her and cannot look away. Maybe it’s the car wreck phenomenon. Or maybe it’s Blanchett’s masterful control she holds over the audience. She is extraordinary as Jasmine, standing shoulder to shoulder with Allen’s other great female characters like Diane Keaton in Annie Hall, Geraldine Page in Interiors, and Gena Rowlands in Another Woman.

Blue Jasmine is Allen’s best film since Match Point and easily ranks as one of his greatest achievements along with Hannah and Her Sisters, Sleeper and his finest film Another Woman. Look for it on numerous top ten lists at the end of the year and expect to hear Blanchett’s named called for practically ever Best Actress award out there.

Rated PG-13 |98 minutes

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