Why am I not surprised that a man who has been in therapy for 50 years is committed to the past as destiny? And when that man is a master filmmaker, well the results are either nihilism, existentialism, or….a Woody Allen film. Blue Jasmine—powered by Cate Blanchett’s remarkable performnce—is one of the most sobering films of the past decade. A searing indictment of a life wasted, Blanchett’s character traces (backwards and forwards in time) the stages of one woman’s ruin, and ultimately offers us no hope that mistakes which detonate the lives of others can ever be atoned.
Former socialite and wife of fast-track investment svengali Hal (Alec Baldwin in a pitch perfect performance as a slick cad), Jasmine finds herself suddenly fallen into poverty and depending upon the kindness of her estranged sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins in a brilliant brilliant performance as a sweet good time girl).
We quickly get the picture. And yes, Streetcar Named Desire oozes from every cinematic pore of this expertly crafted film. Jasmine was once a Hampton wife with Tiffany on her fingers and a Bentley in every garage. Her perfect life implodes—I won’t reveal how, in case you haven’t yet seen the film—and she attempts to regroup in a seedy San Francisco neighborhood where her sister and two sons and blue collar boyfriend all share a boisterous lowlife happiness. But not only do things go wrong quickly for the mentally unstable, hard-drinking Jasmine–”who do I have to sleep with to get a Stoly with lemon twist?”—but we discover that her past has been of questionable stability as well. She has, as Tennessee Williams would have observed of Blanche duBois, fallen on hard times and now needs to get her life together.
Blue Jasmine depends upon a suite of perfect supporting players, from a straight-laced but randy dentist who offers Jasmine her first job in the City, to a sweet but sleazy cheater who almost breaks Ginger’s heart. Peter Sarsgaard appears briefly in a miscast turn as an ambitious and wealthy politician who woos Jasmine until the past comes back to ruin her future. Andrew Dice Clay shows hitherto unknown resources as Ginger’s embittered former husband, and Bobby Cannavale’s mobile and expressive body language tears apart cultural silos and elitist pretensions as Ginger’s current boyfriend.
Allen’s impressive leading actress has been given the role of an utterly bereft, clueless poseur whose life is a ruin of opulence lost. Blanchett is impressive in her flexibility, moods rippling through her Jasmine with the quicksilver mania of a bipolar disaster. Yet her role is the black hole in the center of Allen’s morality fable. Sound and fury, signifying nothing. The life she has squandered is no longer hers. And it wasn’t actually a life in the first place. She doesn’t exist. Only the world around her throbs with emotion, color, laughter, loveable normalcy. Never having practiced living, she is an emotional quadraplegic, left with only high life memories and fading looks. “Can’t we just move on?” she asks her former brother-in-law when he angrily confronts her in the street. But of course Allen’s point is that no, we can’t. There are some actions, some deceits, some moral imprecations that will always haunt us, that can never be overcome. Never forgiven. The past occludes our every present moment. Allen knows this scenario by heart. There is an ice cold center of this concisely-made, beautifully detailed film. And the chill takes a long time to thaw out, even after the film is over.