Movie review: Blue Jasmine

(image via impawards.com)
(image via impawards.com)

 

We all do it – fashion all or part of the often unpalatable realities of our lives into forms more pleasing to the eye and less troublesome to the soul.

But Jeanette Francis aka Jasmine French (Cate Blanchett), the titular Blue Jasmine of writer and director Woody Allen’s latest cleverly-written dramedy, is more skilled at it than most.

With a skill honed over a lifetime, she has become adept at recreating who she is, largely through sheer force of will, imagined necessity and selective perception, into the sort of person who is manifestly at home in a world of luxurious beach houses, charity benefits and endless yoga session and high end fashion shopping trips.

If an uncomfortable reality threatens to intrude into this bubble of convenience, such as her husband’s dubious financial dealings (upon which her Park Avenue house of cards lifestyle sits) or to a lesser extent her sister Ginger’s (Sally Hawkins) occasional and unwelcome visits, she simply pretends it isn’t there, or minimises its impact on her day to day existence (her husband’s many affairs being a striking case in point).

She is adept in an almost preternatural way at making an illusory, narcissistic and delusional life look so inherently stable that it cannot be shaken.

That is until her rich and successful husband, Harold “Hal” Francis (Alec Baldwin) is reported to the FBI for shady business dealings (by person unknown; although we do see who pulled the trigger so to speak in one of the many flashbacks that nicely flesh out Jasmine’s backstory), and kills himself in jail, unable to endure the social shame of his Bernie Madoff-style investor fraud being exposed.

 

Equal parts lavish theatre and rampant self-delusion, Jasmine is manifestly unready to cope with the intrusion of the real world into her Cinderella existence (image via thelmagazine.com)
Equal parts lavish theatre and rampant self-delusion, Jasmine is manifestly unready to cope with the intrusion of the real world into her Cinderella existence (image via thelmagazine.com)

 

Fleeing a world she can no longer inhabit thanks to her husband’s actions, and self-confessed “as broke they come” – although she manages to fly first class to Ginger’s home in San Francisco because, well, you just do don’t you; another example of her lack of any real self-awareness – it is a barely coherent Jasmine who arrives at her divorced sister’s poky apartment, only kept afloat by a constant mix of Xanax and vodka.

What remains of her world are the few designer outfits that arrive with her, ones which she wears throughout the film as a physical demonstration that she has never really left her old life nor learnt a single lesson from her trials and tribulations, and her sense of absolute certainty that her new world should rapidly come to resemble her old.

Ginger, of course, played with irrepressible goodwill and joy by the talented Sally Hawkins has more than a few delusions of her own, but they are minor in comparison to Jasmine’s, and nothing on the order of magnitude of her adopted selfish sister’s many grand internal and external charades.

Having lost, it soon emerges, a great deal of money to one of Jasmine’s ex-husband’s ill-fated schemes, Ginger does her best to embrace her prickly sister, determined to live out a form of sisterly bliss that simply doesn’t exist in reality.

Everyone around Ginger, from her ex-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), who happily articulates his bitterness at losing the one chance he had at a new life, to her current fiancé Chili (Bobby Canavale), and even her two sons, can see what Jasmine herself cannot – that her sister, the former New York socialite, recognises no reality than the one she chooses to embrace, and that everyone close to her is in danger of being damaged by her unwillingness to care properly for anything but her own shockingly selfish interests.

Granted Jasmine does try to build some sort of life with some tenuous links to the real world, taking on a job as a dental assistant to lecherous Dr Flicker (Michael Stuhlbarg) and enrolling in a computer course, but it only takes one high end-ish party and the attentions of social climbing, political office-aspiring diplomat Dwight Westlake (Peter Sarsgaard) for her to descend back into a deftly woven confection of lies, half-truths, and outright ignorance of palpable truths with frightening ease.

 

Try as she might to forge a meaningful relationship with her sister, Ginger is forever hampered by her sister's inability to value people for who they are or the world as it actually is (image via apnatimepass.com)
Try as she might to forge a meaningful relationship with her sister, Ginger is forever hampered by her sister’s inability to value people for who they are or the world as it actually is (image via apnatimepass.com)

 

The real joy of Woody Allen’s script is that he doesn’t travel down the redemption route, preferring as he does in many of his many films, to leave the shabby side of humanity on full display, no lessons learnt, and the damage as fresh and raw as the day it occurred.

He is well aware of the fact that some people are famously unable to learn valuable life lessons, fleeing back to the delusion they embraced years earlier at the first available opportunity, a dynamic which is on full display with Jasmine, who you could well argue never really left it in the first place, despite her obviously changed circumstances.

Played with a brittle brusqueness by Cate Blanchett – it is testament to her consummate abilities as an actor that she can make Jasmine seem even moderately sympathetic; you can well understand why Oscar buzz is once again swirling around her – she firmly underlines Allen’s thesis that there are many people in the world who refuse to settle for anything as troubling as a real world existence if they can help it.

Her counterpoint, of course, is Ginger, who though flirting figuratively and in the case of a brief affair with Louis C.K.’s Al, literally with the vaporous “realities” of a made-up life, has the sort of self-awareness that precludes deluding herself for too long, all too aware she must make the best of the limited life choices available to her.

Jasmine will have none of this, and though it is sad to see her stumbling from self-deluded moment to another, she is a master class in flawed humanity, brought to impressive life by Blanchett and given words by one of the smartest scripts Allen has written in some years.

One of Allen’s great gifts as a writer and director has always been his ability to take a sledgehammer wrapped in velvet to humanity’s many foibles, and he is in rare form in Blue Jasmine crafting an engaging and witty movie that pricks the pomposity of manifest self-delusion in a way that is a joy to behold from start to sobering finish.

 

 

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