Allen strikes gold with “Blue Jasmine”

Carolyn Williams

Senior Writer

Woody Allen’s latest film, “Blue Jasmine,” is arguably his best since “Match Point” in 2005. Channeling Tennessee Williams, Allen has written Blanche DuBois for the 21st century. Paired with Cate Blanchett’s Oscar-worthy interpretation, and an all-star supporting cast, “Blue Jasmine” definitely belongs in Allen’s pantheon of successes.

New York socialite Jasmine French has recently fallen on hard times. Her husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), a slick-talking business mogul and frequent philanderer, has turned out to also be a crook of the Bernie Madoff variety. With all of his assets seized by the FBI, Jasmine is left with little more than the designer clothes on her back and her pretensions to recommend her. Found talking to herself on the streets of New York, she has no choice but to move to San Francisco with Ginger (Sally Hawkins), the estranged, working-class sister she has always done her best to ignore. Intent on regaining her former life, Jasmine (whose real name, we learn, is Jeanette), begins the search for a suitable beau to rescue her from Ginger’s plebeian existence.

As the story progresses chronologically, it also reveals snatches of Jasmine’s former life with Hal. In glittering environs and amongst beautiful people, Jasmine was at home—a far cry from the shattered neurotic eking out a living as a dentist’s receptionist. Self-obsessed, lying, desperate, and dangerously deluded, Jasmine succeeds in catching the attention of the fashionable Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard) with the help of some well-placed lies and considers herself home free.

She has left a serious trail of destruction in her wake. Insidiously undermining Ginger’s genuine relationship with the “grease monkey” Chili (Bobby Cannavale), Jasmine has repeated a pattern of meddling in her sister’s relationships, as she is reminded by Ginger’s ex-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay, as a Kowalski type) at a particularly inopportune moment. Jasmine is also asked repeatedly, as the film progresses, how much she really knows about her husband’s business dealings. How could she not have guessed that his fortune was less than realistic? As Jasmine becomes more and more frantic in her answers, her carefully arranged next chapter is suddenly called into question, threatening to push her over the edge.

Blanchett’s performance has been roundly praised, and with good reason. Her portrayal of the suddenly anchor-less Jasmine is terrific. She simultaneously demands her audience’s sympathy while still managing to disgust at every turn. Her relationship with the well-meaning but slightly clueless Ginger is, at turns, comical and heartbreaking. Their fundamental disconnect works as an extension of Allen’s thesis, condemning Jasmine’s world of privileged deceit while highlighting the happiness possible in the less glamorous domain of Ginger and Chili. At the end of the day, Jasmine really does have to answer one question: how much longer can she continue to depend on the kindness of people she has always treated as strangers?

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