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Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine

26 Sep

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I’ve heard Blue Jasmine opened in the US to a $100,000 screen average – the biggest numbers of Woody Allen’s career.

Are the numbers justified? Yes.

Many critics have already remarked on the similarities to Tennessee Williams’ stage play A Streetcar Named Desire. In fact Allen’s film also recalls authors like Edith Wharton and F. Scott Fitzgerald in its satirical stance toward contemporary social mores and hypocrisy. Allen skewers – a not untypical stance for the 78 year old director – the “one-percent” through the character of Jasmine, (Cate Blanchett). Jasmine has lost everything after her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) is convicted of financial fraud, and moves to San Francisco to live with her adopted sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Jasmine’s sense of superiority sees her dismissing the somewhat stereotyped ordinary Joes she is set up with (“You wanna study anthropology? What, like digging up fossils and stuff?” one of them remarks to her in the film). Yet she also opts to lie about her past in order to meet those who better fit the patrician image she has of herself.

Unfortunately her self-delusion is by no means harmless: she offers what might be termed “aspirational” dating advice to Ginger that goes terribly wrong, and her husband Hal’s Ponzi scheme destroys both her relationship with her son and, it is suggested, Ginger’s own marriage.

Yet Jasmine is not entirely unsympathetic. The point that circumstance is everything is made – though arguably not without some cynicism – throughout the film. Both Ginger and Jasmine are adopted (allowing for a running joke about how Jasmine “got the better genes”). And although Jasmine has descended from the upper echelons of Manhattan to San Francisco’s middle class, we are repeatedly reminded of how it might have been otherwise for both of these two adopted sisters. It is hinted more than once that Jasmine has simply been lucky in attaining her privileged existence, and that Ginger, a supermarket cashier, and her self-employed ex-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), might well have had their own chance at the charmed life: in one pointed scene, the San Francisco couple’s big break comes, not through any hard work or entrepreneurial idea, but through simply winning the lottery (money that is promptly lost after being invested in crooked husband Hal’s Ponzi scheme).

In this regard Blue Jasmine is unusually cognisant of the zeitgeist, more so than much of Woody Allen’s recent oeuvre. Unlike Vicky Christina Barcelona or Midnight in Paris, there is the sense that Allen has attempted to engage more with the way people live now, in spite of some incongruous elements (is it really likely that a middle-aged woman, even one residing on Park Avenue, would not know how to use a computer?). Both Blanchett and Hawkins are excellent as the female leads. Bobby Cannavale does a nice turn as Chili, and Peter Sarsgaard offers a good portrayal of Dwight, the aspiring congressman who at one point seems to promise Jasmine her sole chance of escape from the suburbs back to Manhattan (tellingly, when the lovers kiss for the first time, both are wearing dark glasses).

Small touches like these suggest that Allen is certainly not coasting with his latest effort. When a film can recall such past masterpieces as Crimes and Misdemeanors in its complexity and wit, you know something special has happened.