The 400-Word Review: Blue Jasmine
By Sean Collier
August 26, 2013
There’s something refreshing about a film that’s fully twist-free.
In Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen doesn’t throw much in front of his characters — all performed beautifully, as has become customary with Allen’s work — save maybe a coincidental run-in here and there. Here, the director is more of a clockmaker, creating a set of circumstances and allowing them to unfold. It’s slow, but certainly pleasant.
Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), who has adopted that name after declaring Jeanette too unremarkable, is moving in with her theatrically working-class sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin, seen in extensive flashbacks) was arrested after a string of Madoff-esque crimes; after he hung himself in prison, the feds took the vast majority of Jasmine’s stuff, leaving her with some lines of credit, luggage and little else.
That’s pretty much the story: what initially seems like a fish-out-of-water comedy of manners between the sisters quickly gives way to a more earthbound tale, as the crash has left Jasmine more or less incapable of normal function. Ginger, meanwhile, is attempting to press on with two children, a well-meaning young boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale) and a great deal of denial; she and her ex-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) were among those ruined by Hal’s crimes, leading to the end of their marriage and continued minimum-wage employment.
Ginger kindly compartmentalizes that history from Jasmine’s current plight, despite everyone in sight pointing out that Jasmine was complicit at best. This may have more than a bit to do with Jasmine’s deepest secret, which Ginger is too humble to mention: despite her obsession with all things upper-crust, Jasmine is inexplicably and reluctantly jealous of Ginger. (Note that Jeanette changed her name to make it as fragrant as her sister’s.)
We progressively pick up on the details of the downfall, by way of explaining Jasmine’s inability to cope. Both timelines make ample use of Blue Jasmine’s greatest strength, the performance given by Blanchett. The script requires many different notes out of the character — she is losing her mind, after all — but Blanchett gives her an odd sort of frantic restraint, as indignities and failures roll in, wave after wave.
A film this easygoing doesn’t have any particular message to relay, nor is it an exercise in rich-made-poor schadenfreude. If it’s anything more, it’s a reflection on the chaotic power of lies — as well as the frequent scarcity of truth.
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark