These pages have previously documented Woody Allen’s ability to draw out good performances from actresses, not least because of the words he gives them to say.
He appears to write middle-aged women especially well, that is, if you are prepared to accept that middle-aged women have flaws like the rest of us. In the case of Cate Blanchett as Jasmine (Jeanette) French in Blue Jasmine, the writer-director has spared nothing in his exposition of the woman’s failings.
Jasmine, reeling from devastating financial ruin, social disgrace and being the only one of her friendship circle unaware that her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) has been cheating on her for years, is a basket case, talking to herself or any stranger (as long as they are flying first class) prepared to listen. Her tale appears one which should draw pity until more is revealed as to why she is in this mess – flying across the USA to move in with her down-at-heel sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), who she has had little or no time for before.
The culture shock is palpable. Though Ginger’s home is far from dingy it is a huge comedown from the Fifth Avenue apartment with a view of the park that once housed Jasmine.
Allen follows this woman in her attempt at re-booting her life and exposes a world where a lack of honesty is a trait pervading all levels of society, especially in the upper echelons where Hal schools his business partners in bending the rules and making a fortune doing it. Indeed, a blatant lie told by Jasmine to prospective beau and saviour Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard) has devastating consequences for her, although with Dwight’s career ambitions, it was a lie that would eventually have ruined him as well.
Much has been made of references to A Streetcar Named Desire (to name but one, Ginger’s boyfriend Chili (Bobby Canavale) is often in white singlet and clashes with Jasmine’s highbrow attitude and her living with Ginger, which is cramping his style) but Allen says the story developed after his wife told him of a woman she had heard of who had been a high profile philanthropist/socialite but was forced to work in a shop after her husband had been financially ruined.
There is also the logical allusion to the Bernie Madoff scandal after this darling of New York society had been exposed as a financial fraud yet his wife, Ruth, apparently was unaware of even what a Ponzi scheme was, let alone that her husband orchestrated the biggest of these in financial history.
This is the reality behind the drama that Jasmine lives on the screen. Blanchett’s performance is sublime, her face showing the unravelling of a mind and the near caving in of a face and skull as she tries to come to terms with just how far she has fallen. Constantly resorting to Stoly for liquid and Xanax for solids, she is the embodiment of Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.
Audience members struggle to like her or identify with her. My fellow alumni searched for a worthy player in this tale. Who warranted respect or had at least a tincture of honesty? Was it Chili, although his jealous rage in Ginger’s apartment earned him detractors; was it Ginger’s ex-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) although there was mention, albeit by Jasmine, how he used to beat her sister; was Dwight good or an opportunist looking for the ideal ‘running mate’ for his later career; certainly it wasn’t Hal or the married Al (Louis C.K) who passionately sweeps Ginger off her feet; perhaps it was her, who despite cheating on Chili with the slightly-more urbane Al, realises quickly that her lot is quite a good one?
A film built on the product of lies ends on one as Jasmine, refuses to admit to Chili and Ginger that she and Dwight have broken up, thus curtailing her return to the high life. She leaves the apartment, hair wet and without makeup, to begin what we feel may become a life on the streets, as a woman who talks to herself.
A woman in the complete stages of nervous breakdown.