Retrospective: Blue Jasmine

When this movie was released, many considered it the best and most surprising movie about the 2009 financial crisis, winning Cate Blanchett an Oscar. I have been listening to the soundtrack rather a lot recently, which has made me think about it again. It certainly has one of the best classic jazz soundtracks I can recall. I consider Blue Jasmine to be one of Woody Allen’s best movies, along with Vicky Cristina Barcelona. As with most of his movies, it’s about broken people, but unlike his recent films this is in America rather than his favoured stomping ground of Europe.

Blue Jasmine is about a fraudster (played by Alec Baldwin) who is married to his seemingly perfect wife, Jasmine (Cate Blanchett). He is arrested for fraud and kills himself before being convicted, which forces his wife to move in with her sister in San Francisco. It jumps back and forth between the present day and the past, focussing on her very difficult relationship with her sister (Sally Hawkins) as Jasmine actively attempts to destroy her sister’s life whilst showing signs of deep mental illness.

This movie has been described as a modern day version of A Streetcar Named Desire. I fully agree with this assessment due to the way Jasmine creates this ornate fiction around herself, to protect herself and snare another rich, devoted husband. The movie shows how far some people can deceive themselves to preserve a certain image and the extreme damage self-deception can do to yourself and those around you. One of the best examples of this is when Jasmine finally has irrefutable proof that her husband is cheating on her. She tells a friend who sadly informs her that she was expecting to have this conversation much, much sooner and everyone was amazed at her self-deception and deliberate blindness to the truth about her husband. The subplot with the stepson works really well to show how far from reality she was and how that destroyed him. ‘I hate you far more than him…he took his responsibilities seriously’, she says in regards to his father killing himself. This feels very unusual for Woody Allen as he normally has prigs or idiots as the primary antagonists but here he has one as the central character, making her unpleasantness deep and integral to her being, whereas Allen’s unpleasant characters are usually just rather irritating. I think Jasmine is his first deliberately awful character and I think he is stronger for making her so unbearable. She is what most people imagine the superrich to be: bland, vapid and utterly focused on themselves. She
is utterly oblivious to the outside world. The best example of this is at the beginning of the movie when she travels in first class to the shock and horror of her sister when she says she is bankrupt.

The movie’s real pathos lies with her sister Ginger, who is only trying to look after Jasmine despite being treated like rubbish. The way she tries to cope with her is the major way Blue Jasmine deviates from just being another version of A Streetcar Named Desire. The film ensures that the sympathy remains with Ginger as the underdog, despite all her understandable bitterness. It’s this pathos, which makes this such an accomplished movie. Blanchett’s character is in many ways a timeless one, whose experiences are similar to any who have lost a lot of money and having their identity being integral to the money they spend.

Review by Harry Riedl


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