"Blue Jasmine," Diamond Blanchett
Writer/director Woody Allen’s "Blue Jasmine" is a movie who’s comedic and dramatic impulses derive from the head long crash between the classes. Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), a socialite, loses everything after her husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), is arrested for financial fraud. Jasmine is forced to drop luxurious habits cold turkey and has to move into her sister’s apartment where she goes into major withdrawal. There are a lot of undercurrents in "Blue Jasmine:" behavior between the classes, money and codes of conduct. But at its heart is a tortured heroine who generates a morbid fascination as she spirals into madness. It is a classic tragedy refreshed by Mr. Allen for the twenty-first century.
Jasmine has latched on to the golden ticket which is Hal’s life. She left college early to marry- giving up a chance at a career of her own- and master that complex game of being a socialite. It is a world were the names on the labels tell if one’s fashionable, location of residences settles rank of importance and yardage measures value of wealth. When she falls out of that world she retreats into the care of her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Coming from a place where words like "modest" and "simple" are demeaning her sister’s apartment becomes an assault on the senses. Ginger takes her under her wing and forces her to focus on a career. Having advised friends about the look of their homes Jasmine feels her talents lay in interior design. With the assistance of Xanax and vodka she shores up her nerve and begins her journey toward independence.
Jasmine is not a likable character. But her transformation is spellbinding. Ms. Blanchett is worth the price to admission in anything she does and in "Blue Jasmine" she gives us an exercise in the stages of decline. To start with she is the faithful wife who maintains a polished surface even though storms are raging around her. She clings to her position sacrificing her dignity. Then comes the shock of actually mingling with a lower class. She treats her visit to Ginger’s as a sentence and looks as though she were confined to the refuge room of a fish market whenever she encounters a member of her sister’s class. The more she realizes that the life she once lived is not coming back her mind dabbles in the past to keep out the tragedy of the present. She begins to lose focus on reality. Ms. Blanchett’s performance plays all the right notes and makes it hard to keep one’s attention on the story.
The supporting characters, as in all of Mr. Allen’s movies, are rich and shape the story as it unfolds. Ms. Hawkins’ Ginger is a prototype of a long line of Mr. Allen’s supporting female roles. Ms. Hawkins provides the right mixture of sweet and simple. She has accepted her lot in life and is content with only attention, sensitivity and love. She doesn’t stand a chance under Jasmine’s scrutiny. She doesn’t think that there is anything wrong with her friends or tranquil life until Jasmine analyzes it for her. Personalities shape relationships in the lower classes. When Jasmine rings in on Ginger’s life she makes money an issue. The longer Jasmine stays the tighter she grips the reins on Ginger’s life. Ginger decides to make waves in her life by having a taste of what its like to be up on the next rung. Al (a steady Louis C. K) is step up from the relationships she’s used to. The casting of Andrew Dice Clay and Bobby Cannavale as Ginger’s ex-husband and current love interest are authentic stamps of middle class malaise. They are harden and cynical about life but possess a tenderness they want to share with Ginger. Ginger and her band, whether awed or just plain courteous, are, at first, sympathetic to Jasmine. That is until she begins to put a crack their relationships.
Mr. Allen has written a Balzacian tale of which the movies and fiction rarely focus on. "Blue Jasmine" could easily fit within the scenes of Paris of which Balzac wrote about the social mores that were in play for the aristocracy in Paris. To obtain titles and high standing one must be adept at shrewdness, conniving and ruthlessness. Not much has changed in a century and a half. Mr. Allen’s study of this fallen eagle who must now adapt to living with the animals that crawl is a mix of satire, mystery and tragedy. Mr. Allen and his editor Alisa Lepselter ("To Rome With Love," "Midnight in Paris")have done a fine job at intercutting between the past and the present; telling us how Jasmine has ended up where she did but never giving away how this movie will end. Mr. Allen’s script has hit the mark on the mannerisms of two social classes and is insightful about what happens when they mix. He doesn’t linger or make judgments about Jasmine or Hal’s decisions. They have a life style to maintain and they do it. The script is so good but what is missing is a cinematic touch. It would have helped the impact of scenes if Mr. Allen were still in his Ingmar Bergman stage. The approach he took when filming "Manhattan" or "Another Woman," playing with light and darkness and setting up unforgettable imagery, would have put "Blue Jasmine" into an elite group of films. But as it stands "Blue Jasmine" is the benchmark of great movies for 2013.