Blue Jasmine

Blue-Jasmine-Cate-Blanchett

The old woman on the plane nods politely. The passenger sitting next to her is speaking, but not exactly to the old woman. It’s a monologue about the passenger’s life, and the old woman has the unfortunate circumstance of becoming an unwitting audience member to it, all because of her seat selection. Such is life.

The passenger, Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), reminisces about when she first met her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) and the song “Blue Moon” was playing. She speaks about her life in New York, and how she’s never been to San Francisco, despite her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) living in the city and with whom she will be staying with during her trip. Jasmine says all of this on the plane, and then continues as she follows the old woman down the escalator and while they both wait for their luggage at baggage claim. The monologue ends only after the old woman has received her luggage and interrupts Jasmine to leave the terminal.

Jasmine maintains the illusion of a well-off socialite to hide the unbearable truth: her husband Hal has been convicted of fraud, committed suicide while in prison, and left her penniless and destitute. She has to live with Ginger because she has no other choice – she has no more money left to cover the rent for her apartment in Brooklyn, already a downgrade from her house on Park Avenue. She does however have enough money to fly to San Francisco in a first-class seat (Ginger: “You flew first class?”) and refuses to resort to selling her expensive wardrobe or Louis Vuitton luggage (“It’s used and has my initials on it”).

Ginger is the exact opposite of Jasmine. She is a working-class mother of two with an ex-husband (Andrew Dice Clay) who lost his nest egg when he invested all of his money with Hal and Jasmine. Ginger is infinitely patient and accommodating of her older sister, whom she says has “the better genes” in the family, overlooking Jasmine’s harsh criticisms of Ginger’s new fiancee (Bobby Cannavale) as a hopeless “loser.”

Cate Blanchett creates an incredible character and delivers a masterful performance as a narcissistic socialite, scorned woman, and nervous wreck (sometimes all in the same scene). She ably carries the movie, and a Best Actress nomination is assured, and a win would be well deserved.

Woody Allen has created a complex character study with this film and raises difficult questions about success and happiness. The film’s plot lifts the basic outline from A Streetcar Named Desire (riches-to-rags sister living with lower-class sibling and brutish husband) and changes into an effective class commentary. In Blue Jasmine, Ginger’s fiancee may be a muscle-bound machinist, but he’s not a lustful brute the way Stanley is in Streetcar. Instead, he’s a sensitive working-class man who brings a friend with him the first time he meets Jasmine (as an impromptu blind date), helps her find a job, and takes her insults and criticisms with as much patience and good humour as he can muster. Meanwhile, Jasmine’s late husband may exhibit the appearance of success and intelligence, but he is a philanderer and con artist, which Jasmine overlooks because he provides her with the things and lifestyle she wants. When we characterize someone as “lower-class” why are we only referring to their finances, and not something more?

Woody’s still got it. Another masterpiece to add to his already overstuffed list of them.

Grade: A

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