For an astonishing fifty years, Woody Allen has occupied a unique niche in the film industry, admired for his characteristically intellectual, yet entertaining, work. His latest endeavour, Blue Jasmine, is likely to be regarded as one of the greatest of his career. The story of a woman who is forced to live with her poorer sister upon losing her wealth, status and husband, explores the themes of hypocrisy, conceit, and social status. In fact, Jasmine appears to be a modern day, female equivalent of Jay Gatsby – an individual so intent on rejecting her past that she refuses to believe she is anything lower than her ideal self, even resorting to changing her own name. Ultimately, however, she discovers the nearly inescapable nature of her vicious self-delusions.
The instant Blue Jasmine commences, one can sense a particular type of anxiety, a sort of relentless tension that engulfs the eponymous character. As Jasmine recounts the story of her meeting her husband, stating, “He met me at a party and swept me off my feet,” she appears to be ordinarily nostalgic, yet something feels wrong. Only a few minutes later, it becomes blatantly evident that Jasmine is either on the verge of a breakdown or recovering from one – or both. As she prepares to move into the home of her sister, a single mother struggling financially, Jasmine is quickly revealed to be self-absorbed and out of touch with reality, yet somehow, intricately broken. What ensues is a classic clash between opposite classes and personas – the vain, luxury-loving Jasmine haughtily dismissing her well-intended yet somewhat submissive sister Ginger. Although Ginger is honest with Jasmine on several occasions, she is simply no match for Jasmine’s brazen judgments and relentless aberrations.
What soon becomes apparent, however, is that the two sisters are far more similar than either of them can see. Through the depiction of their relationship, the film hinges on the subtlety of its irony – the irony of each sister thinking she is better off than the other; the irony of Ginger believing she is less deluded than Jasmine; the irony of Jasmine declaring to Ginger, “You choose losers because that’s what you think you deserve and that’s why you’ll never have a better life.” The film is admirably raw, exposing the unwitting illusions of its characters.
The standout of the film is without a doubt Cate Blanchett, who is extraordinarily immersed in her role. She is elegant, yet fragile; bold, yet weak. Most of the time, her character appears to be ridiculous, undeserving of sympathy; yet at the same time, Ms. Blanchett is so tied to her role that it’s nearly impossible not to feel her constant angst. Also impressive is Sally Hawkins as Ginger, a woman torn between nurturing her sister and asserting herself. I was surprised to realize upon leaving the theatre that my mind had not wandered for a single moment during the entire film. I hadn’t thought of anything other than the story – a testament to the gripping nature of the film and its lead actresses. Ms. Blanchett and Ms. Hawkins are certainly deserving of Academy Award nominations.
Overall, Blue Jasmine is a powerful, thoughtful and articulate commentary on the qualities our society values and the corresponding traps to which people succumb. The film was a brilliant insight into the mind of a woman consumed by everything she believes to be important. We all know a Jasmine – someone unwilling to admit conquest, and consequently, unable to overcome defeat. And for those reasons, I give Blue Jasmine 5 stars out of 5.
Cover image from Sony Classics.