Friday 1 August 2014

Movie Review: Blue Jasmine (2013)

A post-recession story of a woman's emotional disintegration, Blue Jasmine chronicles the rapid downward spiral of a once wealthy member of the monied elite through Woody Allen's wry lens.

The film intercuts scenes from the life of Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) before and after she lost everything. She is now penniless, and washes up at the ramshackle San Francisco apartment of her adopted sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). The sisters have never been close: Ginger is working class, divorced from husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), trying to mother two unruly kids and enjoying the company of blue collar types including fiancé Chili (Bobby Cannavale), a prototypical grease monkey.

Jasmine used to be married to Hal (Alec Baldwin), a Bernie Madoff type investor with plenty of charisma. Hal built enormous wealth using other people's money, and created a life of luxury in New York for himself and Jasmine, who chose to remain clueless about Hal's business methods. She was also mostly blind to his dalliances with a succession of attractive women. When Hal was at his peak, he convinced Ginger and Augie to hand him their only small fortune to invest.

Now Jasmine has lost Hal, her wealth, and her mental balance. She is dependent on Ginger for mere survival, and tries to reclaim a semblance of a normal life by taking a menial job as a dental assistant and attempting to learn basic computer skills. She also sets out to find a man who can elevate her back to the lap of luxury.

An exploration of the American Dream headed in the wrong direction, Blue Jasmine is a simple story of growing desperation enlivened by a superb Cate Blanchett performance, who won the Best Actress Academy Award. She dominates the film as a woman suspended between her glitzy past and grungy present, unable to come to terms with her new reality and holding on to lost hopes. Jasmine is a case study in pathetic self-delusion, and Blanchett is irresistible in her slight-enough-to-just-get-noticed dismissive and haughty gestures, ensuring that Jasmine remains mostly oblivious to her plight.

Allen finds humour in the chasm between Jasmine's expectations and Ginger's life, the two sisters polite to each other out of the social necessity of being polite, but sharing nothing in common except the parents who adopted them both. Jasmine tries and mostly fails to bottle her mild revulsion at Ginger's apartment, fiancé and friends, and gradually finds increasing comfort in elevated levels of alcohol consumption.

In the final third, Jasmine's desperation rises to the surface. In her frenzy to snag a man who can whisk her back to a dream life, she toys with the self destruct button of infinite lies as she gets to know diplomat and potential politician Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard). With Ginger thinking of dumping Chili for the modest upgrade of Al (Louis C.K.), Allen poses the question whether it's better to fly close to the sun like Jasmine and come crashing down, or to just flutter awkwardly at low altitude like Ginger and never soar nor stall.

Blue Jasmine looks across the gulf between classes in America, and finds a yawning ravine ready to claim its next victim.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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