Upon your first glance, Jasmine Francis (Cate Blanchett) is a snob. Her chronicle of her marriage to an undefended elderly woman harangues over the course of the journey from the first class cabin to the San Francisco airport’s baggage claim, where she enlists a fellow passenger to retrieve her Louis Vuitton suitcases. You chuckle at how ridiculous she is; you may even hate her.
Then you realize Jasmine has been talking to herself the entire time, and wonder what has left this woman so deluded.
Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen’s latest film, doubles as a modern interpretation of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer-winning play about an elite woman’s decline. Following her husband Hal’s arrest for fraud, Jasmine (née Jeanette), a New York socialite, downgrades to San Francisco to live with her estranged sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) because she simply has nowhere else to go. As expected, Jasmine doesn’t settle into her new middle-class neighborhood so easily. In her struggle to get her life back on track, Jasmine encounters guilt, grief, and a series of panic attacks she offsets by popping Xanax and draining Ginger’s vodka supply. Jasmine’s new life is interlaced with flashbacks of her complicated marriage to Hal (Alec Baldwin). Allen’s orchestration of these flashbacks, along with Cate Blanchett’s striking performance, spectacularly conveys Jasmine’s mental illness. Even when they are laden with tension and strife, these flashbacks are luxurious in their rich detail, setting, and lighting. After the flashbacks end, we’re greeted with a close shot of Jasmine trembling and mumbling to herself. Allen pulls us back into her present, which is defined by her neurotic soliloquies. We feel like we’re experiencing Jasmine’s flashbacks and anxiety attacks, and Allen’s tactic is spectacular.
Jasmine, however, is not the only character with a problem, and her plagues don’t dominate the film’s screen time. Ginger is trapped in a cycle of dating different versions of the same man, who in this case happens to be “Streetcar’s” Stanley Kowalski. Jasmine advises Ginger to date a different type of person, which prompts an affair with Al (Louis C.K.), a “nice guy” she meets at an elitist party. Meanwhile, Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), Ginger’s ex-husband, still resents Jasmine for initiating a business deal gone wrong between him and Hal.
In addition to the greed that comes with glamour, Jasmine tackles mental illness extraordinarily well. Coming from someone who suffers from an anxiety disorder, Blanchett’s interpretation of Jasmine’s episodes was hauntingly accurate. Blanchett also effortlessly channels Jasmine’s snobbery. Her tone is stuffy and cool, and her motions are as airy and ethereal as the patio at Hal’s Hamptons beach house. Blanchett’s portrayal of Jasmine’s annoyance, such as when Ginger’s fiancée Chili (Bobby Cannavale) sets her up on a date, is humorous; her interpretation of panic during Jasmine’s attempted rape scene is as strong as the situation is horrifying. There’s no way she’s walking away from the film without an award. Jasmine’s supporting roles and casting were done well. Alec Baldwin owns sleazy Hal so that it’s impossible to imagine anyone else playing him. Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky) makes Ginger’s romantic insecurity and forgiving nature charming. Bobby Cannavale (Boardwalk Empire), in his blue-collared auto shop uniform with “Chili” monogrammed above the right breast, screams working class.
This film is one of the better movies I have seen this year. Although Allen isn’t telling an original story, the deftness and confidence of its execution make it one well worth watching. It is engaging, poignant and makes you think. Blue Jasmine is beautiful – it’s terrifying, but it’s beautiful.