I’ve been a Woody Allen admirer since his stand up comedy days in the early 60s (treasuring a Greenwich Village live performance album from the era). These were formative years for Allen who was developing his literary abilities writing scripts for The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show and specials for Sid Caesar. It was a spring board for his future stage and cinema scripts. However Allen’s lengthy list of big screen film projects has enhanced his public image, while behind the scenes he’s popular with actors. Far from being a dictatorial director, the players respond to his lighter approach at the helm, respecting their talents interpreting the characters and situations outlined in the screenplays.
“Blue Jasmine” is currently attracting much acclaim, as is Cate Blanchett whose reaping Oscar type applause playing an elegant New York socialite who moves into her sister Ginger’s modest apartment in San Francisco. Her life’s a mess including her marriage to wealthy businessman Hal (Alex Baldwin). Jasmine is emotionally unstable and lacks any practical ability to support herself. She disapproves of Ginger’s boyfriend Chili, who she considers another “loser” like Ginger’s ex-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay, an offbeat casting choice). Here, Allen has inserted an element of workaday elements to counterbalance the setting of privileged sophistication. Ginger, recognizing but not fully understanding her sister’s psychological instability, suggests that she pursue interior design, a career she correctly assumes Jasmine won’t feel is beneath her.
In the meantime, while still able to project her aristocratic bearing, Jasmine begrudgingly accepts work as the receptionist in a dentist’s office, where she attracts the unwanted attentions of her boss, Dr. Flicker. Feeling that her sister might be right about her poor taste in men, Ginger starts seeing Al, a sound engineer whom she considers as a step up from Chili. Jasmine sees a potential lifeline when she meets Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard), a diplomat who is quickly smitten with her beauty, sophistication and style. Jasmine’s flaw is that she derives her worth from the way she’s perceived by others, while she herself is blind to what is going around her. Delicately portrayed by a regal Cate Blanchett, Jasmine earns our compassion. She’s the unwitting instrument of her own downfall. The comedy/drama is about the dire consequences that can result when people avert their eyes from reality and the truth they don’t want to see.
Jasmine’s manic delusions and her arrogant sense of entitlement are all evocative of Blanche DuBois, the troubled character in Tennessee Williams drama “A Street Car Named Desire.” Ironically, Blanchett has played that role to great acclaim on Broadway. Here she tackles Jasmine’s persona with great intensity. Meeting Dwight, a suave, rich widower who aspires to run for political office, offers a way out of her unstable situation. The relationship creates a buoyancy of glamour, wealth, travel, even if she has to tell white lies about every aspect of her life to keep him from running away.
Allen adds another name to a remarkable list of actresses who have graced his films, though some may not remain in memory, but his leading ladies do. Cate Blanchett joins Diane Keaton, Mariel Hemingway, Mia Farrow, Gena Rowlands, Dianne Wiest, Geraldine Page, Charlotte Rampling, Barbara Hershey, Mira Sorvino, Judy Davis, Samantha Morton, Scarlett Johansson, and Penelope Cruz have all impressed portraying complex characters in the director’s light comedies and dark dramas. Eleven nominations for best actress Oscars have led to five wins.
Allen says: “Jasmine has really been through the mill,” In a fit of anger she did something that caused dire consequences she never anticipated, and she brought on herself an extremely potent series of traumas.” Blanchett adds: “Jasmine is in freefall and has to leave behind everything she knows and has expected. She’s entering the realm of absolute unknown, moving from one social set to the other,one class to another.” ”Jasmine wasn’t born into wealth; she met and married a handsome, high flying businessman, when she was a college student, and was quickly transported to a world of high fashion clothes precious jewelry, elegant dinner parties, beach houses and private planes.”
Layers of charm and a measured pace allow even the smallest characters to breathe. But in a nod to real life, Allen takes the viewer into the turmoil of Tennessee Williams and Madoff madness. The film belongs to Blanchett who masterfully creates two characters within one: a before-the-fall Jasmine, all sleekness and confidence, and what remains of her afterward; the brittle, cracked, but not quite broken shell of the woman she once was.