REVIEW: Blue Jasmine – Intoxicated by the Anti-Heroine
Watching an elegantly primped, expensively dressed Cate Blanchett in Woody Allen’s newest film, Blue Jasmine feels less like a night of Cristal and tiny hors d’oeuvres and more like a bender of room temperature vodka and plastic orange Xanax bottles. Before you’re completely intoxicated, it’s a bitter mouthful to swallow.
Jasmine (Blanchett) is introduced to the film flying first class into the first circle of hell in the aftermath of her ex-husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin)’s financial fraud. Her schedule and wallet are both empty, tucked neatly in a gold Birkin bag, and held with a shaky manicured grip — rock bottom could not be less convenient for the former Park Avenue socialite. Broke and single with little hope of a job prospect, Jasmine is forced below her lowest standards and into the cramped San Francisco home of her adopted sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Before the government confiscated Jasmine’s money, Ginger was visiting her — staying in a nearby hotel, sight-seeing with Jasmine’s driver, embarrassingly shrieking over a gifted handbag like a kid whose just won a big fluffy teddy bear. But Jasmine never imagined she’d be in Ginger’s bargain-bought shoes — living with the single mother of two in a city only inspired by Europe. Her company is quietly unwelcomed, however, as Ginger’s possessive boyfriend and herself have yet to forget that Hal’s fraud left Ginger bagging groceries while Jasmine may or may not have looked the other way. Hour after hour, it’s time for Jasmine to pop yet another pill in hopes of escaping rather than spiraling further into the Matrix of a low-class, average lifestyle. Minute after minute, we wish we could too, as Jasmine dives deeper into the aching pit in our stomachs.
Given Woody Allen’s extensive filmography of pretentiously quirky rich women whose flaws are outweighed by their charm (i.e., the infamous Annie Hall), Jasmine —at the very outer shell of surface level— seems like an expected character for him. She’s a stunningly beautiful, well-cultured and well-traveled New Yorker who’s as talkative as Woody himself. Though much like Jasmine’s mask of high-end couture outfits, this is not her reality. After five minutes this is obvious — if anything, Jasmine may be a mockery of the typical Woody woman. She has her quirks, but they are despicable. She had wealth, but it was lost. With the perfectly satirical rich-bitch “Well, in Paris…” voice, Jasmine rambles on with pretentious superiority— but we know she’s a college dropout reliant on handsome men holding handsome money.
It’s easy to root for main characters, even when what they want is disagreeable otherwise. You want the 42-year-old Isaac Davis (Woody Allen) to peruse his 17-year-old love interest in Manhattan, and you want Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) to cheat on his long-time girlfriend with her best friend in To Rome With Love. In Blue Jasmine, you don’t want Jasmine to keep her job as a secretary, or charm a rich man eager to marry. In Blue Jasmine, the only time to empathize with Jasmine is when contemplating her mental state or unseen previous life decisions. Jasmine embodies awfulness simply by behavior, at which Blanchett masters with enough exquisite detail and skill to actually make us hate an attractive woman.
Jasmine’s actions, while shameful, are not entirely grotesque. Engulfed in the capitalistic cliché of the American dream, Jasmine merely wanted the life that Hollywood glorifies. Though Jasmine is not just a woman with wayward ideals whose lost everything — we would probably empathize with that character. Instead, it’s Jasmine’s attitude and essence that cause us to hope for an even worse downfall. It’s her voice; the way she carries herself; the way she shouts that all life as less worthy simply with a glance. We don’t hate Jasmine because she is a “bad character” — we hate Jasmine because Blanchett is a great actress.
The experience of Blue Jasmine is one of high stress, disgust, and simultaneous awe — leaving you feeling violated and insecure after the screen transitions to black and the lights turn on as if everything were fine. You will feel conflicted by your desires, but mindful of them in ways Woody Allen’s other films don’t allow. Blue Jasmine is the most self-aware, satirical film Woody Allen has made to date — a big uncomfortably deadpan joke about the American dream with Blanchett as the punch line. You may choke down most scenes, but what you’re left with is a dizzying aftertaste under the influence of both Woody Allen’s blackest comedy and most haunting drama.