Cate Blanchett is an uncommon Hollywood leading lady. Her cache has always been talent not beauty and her calling card the unusual ability to emanate with pinpoint precision.
Playing Jasmine in “Blue Jasmine” she creates a character rendered so emotionally fragile from circumstances that the audience is folded into her world as it abruptly unravels.
Her vapid and narcissistic existence has provided little in the way of survival skills. And that is the premise of “Blue Jasmine.”
Scripted by Woody Allen and delivered with nary a musical cue, what “Blue Jasmine” actually provides is a subtext within striking distance. And that is the danger of being an attractive woman, suddenly single and here, the added disadvantage of overcoming an inescapable association.
Shot in flashbacks, Jasmine has just been dumped by her Bernie Madoff-type husband Harold (Alec Baldwin) for a younger woman after sharing a life of yachts, mansions and limitless funds. When he stuns her with the news (and his nonchalant delivery), her friends compound the fracture by volunteering his multiple transgressions.
As the pummeling continues, Jasmine unravels with nary a moment between blows. When her husband’s highly publicized financial plunder results in a public trundling off to prison, even more tragedy follows. Jasmine’s world is instantly and cruelly shrunk to nothing.
With upper class friends jumping ship, Jasmine’s good-hearted working class sister Ginger (an excellent Sally Hawkins) extends a roof. Without bitterness or jealously, her gesture is rendered all the more striking when it is revealed she and her ex-husband were victims of Jasmine’s husband’s plunder. Ginger and her ex saw their only chance to rise above their meager lot — a $200k lotto win — misdirected straight into Jasmine’s husband’s swindle. They lost everything. Even the marriage was a casualty.
Living with her sister now, Jasmine is seriously not even thinking about that. She is reeling from the weight of it all and taking to talking to herself in public.
She is withering.
Though she does have one skill to leverage, it seems the market for “social graces” is thin.
As her son disappears from the whole mess in disgust, she is dealt yet another blow as news of her husband’s recent death in prison makes headlines.
Blanchett is riveting.
Like Vivian Leigh in “Streetcar Named Desire” (though Blue hardly rises to that level) she is the object (or is it prey) of men who would seek to exploit or possess her. As in life, employers or men with whom she would seek shelter are well-schooled in the exploitation of any (im)balance of power.
Taking a menial job as a dental receptionist and rising to that tedious necessity, Jasmine is never harsh, brisk, or mean-spirited in any meaningful way. In Allen’s hands, she is a Persian kitten suddenly in an alley. And survive she must despite the added complications of tomcats eyeing her. When her dentist makes a lurching play for her, it becomes her undoing.
Only a random meeting snaps her momentarily back into the world she most resembles. As a wealthy and emerging politician becomes smitten with her, we see her undiminished regal and social bearing drawing light.
He offers the slightest opening to the world she was so unceremoniously wrested from and there we see her in what appears to be her natural habitat.
Peter Sarsgaard (Dwight ) is a far cry from the rapist in “Boys Don’t Cry” and pulls off the unlikely hat trick of a kind, smart and generous political climber.
When an unexpected meeting with her sister’s angry ex (Andrew Dice Clay as Augie) creepily provides Jasmine’s identity as the swindler’s ex-wife, we feel for her as she helplessly slides further down the glacial front into an abyss we hardly wish for her, but can’t help but note the men who pushed her there.
A unique storyline, with good pace and excellent acting. If you are looking for a happy ending, this one is snatched away.
All that is left is the Persian kitten once beautiful, now gasping.