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Blue Jasmine

Woody Allen’s Bicoastal Drama

Aug. 7, 2013
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Although Woody Allen became a belated world traveler in recent years, setting films in Barcelona, London, Paris and Rome, he returns to familiar ground for much of Blue Jasmine. Half of the film unwinds in the tonier districts of Manhattan; the other half is set in San Francisco. The bicoastal split is more a matter of visual contrast than an integral plot element and California isn’t the butt of humor as in his earlier comedies. Regardless of geography, Blue Jasmine occupies Allen’s familiar emotional terrain of fraught relationships amid the vagaries of love and lust, coupled with problems of family and class.

The troubled protagonist, Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), arrives from New York to stay with her estranged stepsister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins). The backstory is revealed through a series of flashbacks. Jasmine’s marriage to the high-flying, philandering financier Hal (Alec Baldwin)—a man who greased his voracious greed with conspicuous philanthropy—crashed along with his heavily leveraged, smoke-and-mirrors investment empire. Jasmine was the sister who chased after the upper echelons of American society while Ginger sank into the lower castes. Ginger’s marriage with the blue collar Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) ended badly after investing their $250,000 lottery jackpot in one of Hal’s ventures. Ginger and Augie lost faith in each other as their dream of wealth dissolved into nothing.

Ginger is the better grounded of the siblings, with a walk-up flat in the Mission District, joint custody of her two boys and an auto mechanic boyfriend who is nuts about her, Chili (Bobby Cannavale). Jasmine is more unsettled, unhinged and unstable, drinking heavily and popping Xanax. Blanchett gives a brilliantly varied performance, channeling Tennessee Williams’ Blanche DuBois to depict a high-strung woman whose affectations descend into delusion. Jasmine was always something of a phony, averting her eyes as corrupt deals were hatched on shady verandas in the Hamptons. After her comedown, she is sometimes hard put to distinguish past from present, reality from illusion.

Aside from its close look at a set of memorable characters, Blue Jasmine is a study in the acute divisions of America’s class system, determined as much by cultural markers as money. Allen seems to prefer the uncouth vitality of the lower middle class to the polish and venom of the one percent. Blue Jasmine is a compelling social drama infused with a dose of comedy as Allen explores his perennial themes: the difficulty of preserving relationships and maintaining fidelity in a world of rapid change and many options.


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