Frequently, when reading about how corporate fat cats who send their careers and billion dollar businesses crashing down through fraud and financial deception, there’s always one commonly recurring detail. While the articles would focus mostly on the likes of Bernie Madoff or Ivan Boesky, the subject of their wives eventually comes up. More times than I can count, the significant others of the wealthy suits are described as victims and “used to living a particular lifestyle.” It always sounds like these ladies are suddenly feeling punished for being unable to spend wildly on lavish shopping sprees, as they had before their husband’s ruses went public. I have never felt sorry for these women.
If Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine is especially daring, it’s in the way that it tries to make us sympathetic for Jasmine, played by Cate Blanchett. She’s the wife of a billionaire businessman (underplayed beautifully by Alec Baldwin) whose financial scheme has lead to his corporation, his family and his life to come toppling down. Jasmine is now on her own, living with her sister in “squalor” (more like a perfectly acceptable, middle-class apartment in San Francisco).
Jasmine is a victim, no doubt, but also a real snob. She accuses her sister of settling with terrible boyfriends and she’s right. She’s also insufferable in the way she regards her new life, which was provided out of pity, with disdain. The character is hard to like, though she’ll grow on some members of the audience. There is something tragic and nakedly human about her. Blanchett’s performance and Allen’s screenplay make her complex and uncomfortably real.
This near-great Allen drama is bold but tonally wobbly. It seems like it wants to be a comedy, with one-liners and comedic moments awkwardly sprinkled throughout. It works best when it moves past the shtick and marches bravely into dark territory. Blanchett’s remarkable performance alone is worth seeing, as she makes this spoiled, hard to like woman layered, fascinating and, in the end, difficult to root against. That you walk away feeling so much sympathy towards Jasmine is one of the film’s minor triumphs.
Allen’s return to tough, probing, female-dominated character studies like Interiors, September and Another Woman isn’t as sturdy as Blanchett’s performance. The flashbacks, which portray the downfall of Jasmine’s former life, are clumsily edited into the current-day scenes. Subplots involving supporting characters go nowhere and it feels like one of Allen’s lesser, tossed-off romantic comedies at times, before jolting us back with scenes as bruising as anything from his Husbands and Wives.
The final scene is especially punishing. More than any scene here, the closing image is haunting and cruel in a way so profound, I wish the film overall were as strong as the conclusion Allen concocted.
Baldwin was barely used in Allen’s Alice and not given the writer/director’s best work for his role in last year’s From Rome with Love. Finally, the actor is given a rich part that he digs his teeth into; he’s terrific playing Blanchett’s deliciously insincere snake of a spouse. Louis C.K. is poorly used in an underwritten role–it appears Allen didn’t know of his talents or how to utilize them. On the other hand, Andrew Dice Clay, playing Jasmine’s former brother in law, is surprisingly strong, nailing working class charm in a juicy character turn. Sally Hawkins is wonderful as Jasmine’s long suffering sister and the performances are strong all around.
The music choices sometimes clash with the tone of the scenes and San Francisco is so poorly used as a backdrop that Allen might as well have gone back to his native New York. While too uneven a film to let off the hook, it drums up undeniable dramatic power.
Rated PG-13 / 98 Min.