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A broken woman hastily reassembled


Blue Jasmine (M). Director: Woody Allen. Starring: Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin, Peter Sarsgaard, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Stuhlbarg, Louis C. K. 98 minutes

2013 is clearly an 'on' year for Allen. One of the great American filmmakers, he is an institution unto himself, although in recent years his strike rate is no better than 50/50. Last year's Roman tourist video To Rome With Love was largely deplorable. By contrast Blue Jasmine is a dark gem that deserves to be named one of his best.

It is worth seeing for Cate Blanchett alone. Armed with Allen's dialogue and under his gaze she turns out one of he performances of her career, as Jasmine, formerly Janet, an upwardly mobile socialite lately brought low by the dubious business practices of her husband Hal (Baldwin), and by a subsequent nervous breakdown.

The film opens with her travelling from New York to San Francisco, to the working class neighborhood where her sister Ginger lives with two young sons. Ginger has offered Jasmine a place to live while she regroups, though she is bemused to learn that the penniless Jasmine has flown first class. Jasmine dismisses this as a reflexive extravagance. But it is a glimpse of the delusions held by a woman who has made self-delusion an artform.

The film juxtaposes the snobby Jasmine's attempts to start again from the bottom, with copious flashbacks to her previous life that provide hints to the exact nature of her downfall. The disjointed chronology is dizzying at times, although even this seems to reflect Jasmine's erratic state of mind. Blanchett's Jasmine is a tightly twist-tied bag of snideness, nervous tics and affected elegance; a woman seemingly hastily reassembled following her breakdown, her desperate self-doubts cobbled together with utter self-absorption.

Hawkins, too, is wonderful as the dowdy, humble foil to Jasmine's whiplash pride. The relationship between these two sisters — born of different mothers, but raised by the same adoptive parents, and so reperesenting a kind of living case study for nature versus nurture — provides a measuring rod for Jasmine's world view. She openly condescends to Ginger for not improving herself, and, in assessing Ginger's loud but essentially sweet boyfriend Chili (Canavale), berates her for not finding a 'decent man'.

Of course, the fact that Jasmine appears to conflate decency with upward mobility is blatantly ironic, given the rich scumbag she had previously in Hal. The cruel absurdity of Jasmine's snobbishness in this regard is underscored by a subplot in which Ginger, worn down by Jasmine's ceaseless condescension, hooks a 'decent' man of her own (Louis C. K.). It's not hard to guess that for Ginger, it's an ill-fated diversion.

Jasmine is a tragic figure, and her fatal flaw is that she is entirely self-absorbed. But she is also a victim; the product of a society that expects women to conform to norms that disempower them. At one point she takes a job as a dentist's receptionist, and the dire treatment she receives at the hands of her employer (Stuhlbarg) because she is an attractive woman, serves as a reminder that it was not her husband's downfall and the resultant material loss that caused her breakdown. It was the many years she spent in a marriage that was fundamentally abusive.

Whether working in drama or comedy, Allen is at his best when he presents robust and complex portraits of deeply flawed human beings. It is hard not to feel sympathy for Jasmine, despite her destructive narcissism. Yes, it's definitely an on year for Allen.

Tim Kroenert headshotTim Kroenert is the assistant editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Tim Kroenert, Woody Allen, Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Stuhlbarg



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Existing comments

With Woody Allen directing, and the very talented Cate Blanchett starring, "Blue Jasmine" looks a winner. Despite scandals in his private life, fed to us by an aggressively greedy media, and some mediocre films, Allen will be remembered as a superlative film-maker. He played the neurotic New Yorker, constantly analysing, to perfection. Can we imagine him as an Atticus Finch character? That is definitely Gregory Peck territory. So not Woody.

Pam | 19 September 2013  

I utterly agree with Tim's assessment of the film and the amazing performance by Cate Blanchett but beg to differ about 'To Rome with Love' even though most critics would agree with Tim. I regard it as a surreal gem that shows up the many absurdities of existing in this mad but beautiful city where I lived for 12 years. A man who can only sing opera on stage while showering? Welcome to the real Rome!

Duncan MacLaren | 19 September 2013  

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