At the risk of being a critical minority of one, I have to point out that “Blue Jasmine” is a movie in which we are asked to take seriously and empathize with characters who are mostly cardboard paste-ups. Ginger, the sister of Cate Blanchett’s Jasmine, is a divorced mother who works as a bagger in a San Francisco supermarket yet lives in a 3 bedroom apartment filled with furniture and tchotchkes. Lest you think that she is being supported by her ex-husband, we learn that he has lost all his money and is planning on going to Alaska to work on the pipeline. Ginger, played by Sally Hawkins, is a blue collar creation who looks like she wandered in from Fred and Ethel Mertz’s apartment yet somehow grew up in the same household as the super-svelte, formerly nouveau riche Jasmine who almost became an anthropologist. One can envision Carol Burnett and Vicky Lawrence pulling this off as brilliant parody many moons ago but “Blue Jasmine” has pretensions to serious drama, evoking the ghost of Blanche DuBois along with all the trappings of “A Streetcar Named Desire” - the feral sexuality and boisterous alcoholism of Ginger’s Kowalski-esque boyfriend, the gentleman caller, Jasmine’s precipitous fall from grace and resultant breakdown, the bluesy soundtrack, the mixed bag of pretension and pipe-dreams that are meant to turn dross into something vaguely more meaningful.
All the details are askew. The scene in which Jasmine soliloquizes about her various pharmacological mishaps to her young nephews doesn’t succeed as either comedy or tragedy, coming off instead as a stagey way of reprising Jasmine’s already obvious narcissistic self-absorption. The scene in which Jasmine gets assaulted by her fumbling employer is sheer balderdash as the statuesque Blanchett towers over the tiny attacker and looks as if she could have put him away with little more than a throaty sneer and condescending glare. Her presumed concern for her former stepson seems incomprehensible given her evident inability to relate to anyone in more than the most superficial and self-referential way.
This is a movie about an unlikeable woman who gets her comeuppance more than once. Because Cate Blanchett is talented enough to get our attention even if she were playing a boiled vegetable, critics have lavished great praise on her performance and unfortunately extended it to the movie as well. Blanchett is riveting but the screenplay, character development and plot remain strictly derivative without the benefit of new insight into the updating of Tennessee Williams’ dated play. Jasmine doesn’t work well as a stand-in for Mrs. Madoff, a woman who worked as a bookkeeper in her husband’s office and certainly was knowledgeable about financial transactions. She doesn’t work well as a betrayed wife who was the last to know about her husband’s affairs; we see how demanding and abrasive she is when she isn’t getting her way - we can easily imagine what such a woman would have done watching her husband flirt with other women in plain sight. The only vulnerability that we can associate with Jasmine is circumstantial but not character-driven. Ultimately, Blue Jasmine is a movie about a woman strong enough to attract attention and thrive beautifully and effortlessly in high society but unable to summon any of those core resources when she loses her position and props. A Woodly Allen movie asking us to care about the downfall of a one-percenter? Surely you jest.
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