Another Xanax for Jasmine

Blue Jasmine

-Film reviewed by Lisa Umhoefer

Blue Jasmine is one of Woody Allen’s darker, less optimistic films about human nature. Allen’s masterfully crafted script gives the actors and actresses room to experiment in their roles and Cate Blanchett’s delivers a steller performance as Jasmine. Smoothing the plot, the overt sarcasm and comedic touches we have come to expect from Woody Allen are limited to the subtle musical choices that comment on the characters, a choice that works well.

The film begins with Jasmine on a plane. She is talking incessantly to the woman next to her, revealing her character’s fragile emotional state, and giving us some needed back-story. We soon learn that Jasmine is reeling from a disastrous marriage. Not only was her husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), unfaithful, his shifty business deals landed him on the white-collar most wanted list, and the government has ceased most of their property. Jasmine must now pick up the pieces of her broken life.

This brilliant use of screen time shows what comes with forty plus years of filmmaking experience. Jasmine is deranged, but she has a captive audience for the duration of the 7 hour flight from New York to San Francisco. Broke and desperately in need of a place to stay, she is on her way to live with her sister. But Jasmine’s definition of penniless might not match ours. She arrives dressed in designer clothes and tips the car driver generously for carrying her Louis Vuitton luggage up to the apartment.

Jasmine’s sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), has the complete opposite personality. Ginger brings a Brooklyn sensibility to the film that makes it easy to forget it’s taking place in San Francisco. There is underlying tension, but also a genuine desire for renewed friendship driving the two sisters to reunite and face their problems.

Jasmine’s mental state, however, is less composed. She talks to herself in bouts of blind reverie, and life has taken a spiteful turn. Her experience as socialite and wife is not a good resume builder, except perhaps for another job as a wealthy man’s wife. This is a position she aspires to, but in the meanwhile, she has to make money. Jasmine complains that the jobs she can get are “too menial,” an assessment of her abilities that may well be true, but which doesn’t receive much sympathy from audiences. She has a mean streak, and is horribly unaware of what she says. Some viewers may even take pleasure in watching her work jobs that she believes are beneath her.

Despite being in poor shape to judge, Jasmine is immensely critical of Ginger’s choice in men, and of her sister’s life in general. The look of horror on Jasmines face as she surveys what is clearly a dump to her, i.e. what the rest of us would consider a decent one bedroom apartment in an expensive city, is performed perfectly. Likewise Ginger’s men, Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) and Chili (Bobby Cannavale) fare no better when judged by Jasmine. They are high on honesty and effort, a currency not recognized or valued by Jasmine, and they score low in the area of money and designer labels. This provides a fantastic contrast to the men that Jasmine is drawn to, Hal and Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard). These men are smoother than smooth, and have the money for the right look, but is Jasmine really better off in their care?

The film makes a great statement concerning issues of wealth, and the character of mankind. Viewers familiar with labels will appreciate the attention to detail that was put into every costume choice, and every set. The designers and Woody Allen are on an intimate basis with the cast of characters they have set in motion, and audiences will feel transported into another world. It is a scene most people never experience in real life, but we get enough of a road map to know who is wearing what, and a rough idea of how much it all costs. This theme plays out not only in broad strokes, but also in the supporting details, such as the gigantic diamond we see on Jasmine’s finger while hearing about some of Hals unsavory deeds. The man who provided the diamond has also provided the pain, leaving Jasmine disillusioned and addicted to Xanax.

Of course Woody Allen’s interesting and quirky casting choices brings the picture in for a landing. Who else would choose Andrew Dice Clay, and turn him into a reasonable human being?  Or C.K. Louis and do just the opposite? It must be as fun for these actors to play these roles as it is for us to watch them, and audiences are wonderfully entertained. Cate Blanchett’s performance as Jasmine is riveting. We don’t know until the very end exactly how tormented her character is, or the depths to which she will fall. We’ve cared enough about her to follow her on this path, hoping she learns something along the way, and the revelation of what she has done makes the ending unexpectedly satisfying.


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