In spotlighting the best of cinema in 2013, one would be remiss not to discuss Cate Blanchett’s performance in Woody Allen’s masterful character study Blue Jasmine. Nominated for a Golden Globe amongst stiff competition, Blanchett has swept nearly every award thus far, and for good reason.
Well, there’s only so many traumas a person can withstand until they take to the streets and start screaming.
Blue Jasmine tells the story of a New York socialite who comes to live with her sister (Sally Hawkins, also nominated for a Golden Globe in the Best Supporting Actress in a Supporting Role category) after her husband (Alec Baldwin) is busted in a Bernie Madoff type of scandal. Jasmine is looking to rebuild her life, after being found talking to herself in the street, but finds she has little skills and no will to “slum it.” Jasmine, formerly known as “Janette,” pops handfuls of Xanax washed down by large glasses of Stoli, and stumbles around San Francisco, talking to apparitions from her past.
Scenes from Jasmine’s life are juxtaposed with her present in San Francisco, as we become privy to her many dinner parties, life in the Hamptons, and the events leading to her mental break. The story unfolds in unexpected ways, taking us deeper down the rabbit hole into this trophy wife’s existence.
Woody Allen loves the delightfully disturbed: the self-indulgent, self-obsessed Manhattanites that have roamed his many films. But in Cate Blachett’s Jasmine, there is real desperation, a true edge. At any moment, she could snap, crumble, and do the unexpected. The film is a portrait of a woman unhinged, plain and simple. There will be no happy endings or conclusions for the semi-educated conceit or the sad lives she touches.
It reminded me of roles like Maggie Gyllenhaal in Sherrybaby. Serious crisis. A grown-up role for a true master of the craft; Blanchett was born to play the sister with “the good genes,” Sally Hawkins’s Ginger continues to point out as the real reason their lives took such different paths.
It would have been easy to fall into the trap of crafting Jasmine as a heroine, wronged by her husband, struggling to come back above water; or a woman who identified what she had done and began to make amends, at least to herself. However, quite refreshingly, Blue Jasmine is none of these things. You will not care for Jasmine; frankly, no one does. She is a means to an end for some, a way out for others, an excuse, a firebomb, an obsession, and at the end of all, she sees none of it.
A narcissist to the core, she does little to escape her plight beyond dreaming. In fact the whole film feels like a dream at times, much like Allen’s charming 2011 film Midnight in Paris.
Honestly, pretty much every character in the film makes mistakes, or is the mistake waiting to happen. Each has deep problems, which rings true to life, and Jasmine is merely the match illuminating the chaos. And when you think she might rebuild her life of excess with new paramour (Peter Sarsgaard), it is possible to question the mental break as yet another lie Jasmine tells to herself and projects into the world. Is this another excuse for her problems, or is she really sick? (SPOILER ALERT: She’s really sick…)
Even though viewers might find her actions, attitudes, and outlook deplorable, Jasmine is made nearly sympathetic by Blanchett. It is a testament to her talent, and a phenomenal script by Allen, that you care enough to wade in her antics. Blanchett is flawless, not one note rings untrue. She should find herself on the podium Sunday night, and again in February, when she holds her old friend Oscar in her hand.