Sunday, August 4, 2013

"Blue Jasmine"

 4 / 5 

Economists tell us we are living in a period of recovery, but for most people, it sure doesn't feel that way.  Allegedly, the tough part is over -- but there's also a sneaking suspicion that the worst is yet to come.

That's the predicament Jasmine French finds herself in, too, in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine.  She's barely holding on after experiencing a total collapse of life as she knew it.

Her collapse has been a particularly catastrophic one, because Jasmine was married to an impossibly rich man, whose business dealings she never understood but always supported, because he assured her that he would always take care of her.  Right in front of her face, he lied and cheated, he shoved papers in front of her that she signed without thinking, and now she's paying the price for her ignorance.  Her life used to be about shopping on Fifth Avenue, sailing through the waters of the South of France, and avoiding anything that vaguely looked like responsibility.

Things change.

Jasmine has no choice but to take her adoptive sister Ginger up on an offer to live with her in a seedy apartment in one of the less-attractive neighborhoods of San Francisco.  Jasmine swears she's going to do things differently, but she's also numbing herself with endless Stoli martinis (with just a twist of lemon) and a rather alarming number of Xanax throughout the day.

She develops a plan for herself, one as deluded as she is.  She'll learn how to work a computer, then she'll take an online class in interior decorating and get her license, because that is where her true talents lie.

Meanwhile, Ginger suffers through a string of ill-advised husbands and boyfriends and works as a cashier at a little grocery store nearby.  She does whatever she has to do to get through a difficult life.  Ginger had a chance at improving her lot, and resents Jasmine for the way she and her ex-husband lost a bundle of money they had for just a moment.

Blue Jasmine's plot sounds depressing, but since this is Woody Allen, everyone is a little manic and there's always a generous dose of uncomfortable humor to the proceedings.  But not always, because Allen, returning to the U.S. after two successive European films, is making some disturbing observations about a disturbing trait Americans seem to possess to delude ourselves into imagining life is better than it actually is.

The movie is anchored by a remarkably complex performance by Cate Blanchett, who models her characterization after screwball-comedy era Katherine Hepburn (a woman she portrayed in The Aviator), if she had been holed up in Bellevue for a few years.  She talks about taking "Edison's Medicine," electroshock therapy, more than hinting that Jasmine's problems run far deeper than she wants to admit.

As brought to the screen by Blanchett, Jasmine is utterly unpredictable; she is the kind of woman who doesn't simply make bad choices, she lets herself believe they're good ones.  She may be 2,500 miles away from her problems, but she can't escape them, because they're within her.

Sally Hawkins, unforgettable as the ebullient Poppy in Happy-Go-Lucky, is also terrific as she hints at bigger problems for both sisters. They may not share parents, but they do share a similar hopelessness, expressed in different ways.  Jasmine can't picture a life without Hermes bags and dinners at Cirque, while Ginger accepts that a violent auto mechanic and a married man are the best she's entitled to in life.

The script isn't faultless, though.  Allen gives us an impeccable character study, but pulls his punches on the toughest stuff.  His romanticism was straightforward and potent in Midnight in Paris, but he seems less comfortable with the hardest observations.

Until, that is, the final scene.  Here's where, appropriately, it all coalesces, and it's impossible not to be moved by Jasmine's fate as you watch.

It's only long afterward that the most important questions Blue Jasmine is asking seem to come clear.  Take away the Dior dresses and Louis Vuitton luggage, and forget how easy it is to guffaw at the way Jasmine deals with her overpowering anxiety:

How different are we than Jasmine?  We all played a part in what happened to the world, and it's easy to claim we are blameless for the consequences.

The final shots of Jasmine -- and of Blue Jasmine -- are likely to stay with you for a very long time.  They propel the movie past what flaws it may have, and put it into a class all by itself.

Viewed Aug. 3, 2013 -- ArcLight Hollywood