Ten Word or Less Review: Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
Think of Blue Jasmine as a story of two eggs, a Faberge egg and one of those plastic Easter eggs you buy a bag of at Wal-Mart for $2. The Faberge egg, Cate Blanchett’s Jasmine, is beautiful and refined. It sparkles in the sunlight like a diamond and draws the admiration of many. People talk about it at great length with eloquence and grace and its value is considered priceless. Then there’s the plastic egg, Sally Hawkin’s Ginger, Jasmine’s sister. There’s nothing special about the plastic egg. It sits in the bag with all the other plastic eggs doing what plastic eggs do. The real test comes when you take both eggs and drop them on the floor. The plastic egg splits into two pieces, you pick them up and put them back together and everything is fine. This is Ginger. The Faberge egg shatters into millions of pieces. It cannot be put back together. No amount of care or attention will ever fix it. It’s ruined. This is Jasmine.
We’re introduced to Jasmine in an airplane. She’s talking to a fellow first class passenger and as we continue on, off the plane and to baggage claim, she simply never stops talking. Jasmine is clearly a wrong moment away from imploding. Just getting to her sister’s apartment seems like an ordeal which may rock Jasmine right out of her tailored clothing. Blue gradually reveals to the audience that Jasmine’s husband (Alec Baldwin) was a Bernie Madoff styled crook whose fake empire has fallen, leaving Jasmine destitute and ruined, mentally as well as financially. The movie commences to go back and forth between the life of blind indulgence before the fall, and her crumbled life of the now, living with a sister she barely knows, contempt for which she can barely mask.
People of refinement, intellect and/or stature are who Allen is comfortable making movies about. His films have more often than not been populated by those who are well off or plan to turn out that way. This isn’t the first time Allen has turned his sights on the destructive nature of privilege and the facade that comes with excess but Jasmine marks his attempt to update the discussion for our current economic age. The questions which hang over the story become partially about Jasmine ability to save herself, but eventually, is Jasmine worth saving? Was she ever someone of value? How completely does the pampered life leave one unable to function away from it? And maybe most importantly, if Jasmine ever was someone of note, can she be again?
The movie doesn’t give us much hope in the last question. Blanchett’s high strung creation keeps popping Zanex like Tick Tacks while downing vodka like a burly Russian lumberjack. Jasmine’s attempts at rebuilding seem halfhearted and doomed from the get go. She can’t stop reliving moments from her past, talking to no one, totally unaware that others are giving her the crazy lady look. So it’s the other question that starts to take shape instead. Was Jasmine ever somebody worth something? The answer there is a little less clear and perhaps somewhat of a letdown.
Sympathy for Blanchett’s creation may be hard to grasp but we can’t help but watch and be drawn into her orbit. Blanchett is too keen a performer to make Jasmine truly detestable or loathsome. She’s a broken woman with little in the way of positive attributes but really hating her stays just out of reach. We’re magnetized by her delusions and the wreck as a whole. Blanchett, a charmed and graceful performer who is hard not to take as a paragon of elegance all the time, achieves panic and blind self-destruction with deft skill. Hers is a great performance of an unflattering character that we should detest, but in the end don’t. Though we see her complicit in her own destruction one can only speculate that they would do anything different. Really, how much would you lie to yourself to stay on top of the mountain?
The rest of Blue world is made up of working class types who Jasmine can relate to about as much as a flamingo can relate to a plastic turtle. Her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkis) is a divorced mother of two bagging groceries for a living. Ginger’s ex-husband (Andrew Dice Clay) is essentially a day laborer/handyman. Baldwin’s husband character destroyed their life as well when his cookie crumbled. Ginger now dates a grease monkey (Bobby Cannavale) and then gets sidetracked into a dalliance with a sound system installer played by Louis C.K. This side of the movie feels less involving, using Ginger’s romantic ups and downs as a dramatic opposite to the overblown drama of Jasmine’s. Of course, seeing the Diceman in a real movie, a Woody Allen movie of all things, and actually holding his own is almost worth the price of admission in and of itself. But Allen has less of a grasp or interest in characters like this. His screenplay, which feels hurried in that way most of his do, eventually gives way to circumstantial plotting around too many corners as it hurries to wrap itself up in a time frame Allen seems adamant about adhering to no matter the cost.
Blue Jasmine is not the best Allen has had to offer as a filmmaker but it is at least an interesting attempt at meaningful story, character. It’s a cynical piece and those looking for uplift and humor will only find barbed observations. Blanchett’s full force performance is enough to hang the movie on with ease and watching this person disintegrate before our eyes makes the film worth the effort.