Woody Allen’s latest is a character-focused departure from comedy and catharsis.
Woody Allen’s latest film to hit the screens is a tale of a fall without redemption. Cate Blanchett masterfully plays Jasmine, a fallen Manhattan socialite who is forced to flee to San Francisco in the wake of a financial scandal, where her ex-husband (Alec Baldwin) is exposed as a conman. Having fallen upon hard times, she moves in with her adopted sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), who lives in a humble apartment with her two children.
Despite Jasmine’s desperate attempts at maintaining the appearance of wealth and decorum, the truth gradually unfolds as Allen darts back and forth between past and present, interlacing scenes of lavishness and excess with the dawning realities of a midlife meltdown, featuring Xanax pills and one too many martinis.
None of the critics have failed to notice the parallels with Tennessee William’s A Streetcar Named Desire, which similarly boasts a fragile, self-deluded protagonist whose airs and graces wreak havoc in her sister’s home.
However, I feel that there is more to be said about Allen’s heroine and her blithe disregard for reality. With the film’s undeniable references to the economic crash and the Madoff investment scandal, Jasmine can be interpreted as a modern day Marie Antoinette, who drives herself towards destruction without being aware of it.
Blue Jasmine is far from being Allen’s most likeable film. His protagonist is awful, pretentious and exhausting to be around. It is impossible to empathise with a character who flies First Class, Louis Vuitton luggage in tow when she is completely broke. However, watching Jasmine’s serial humiliation unfold, with her mascara smeared eyes and sweat stained underarms, it becomes strikingly obvious that her life is a mess, and one cannot help but feel sorry for her.
Blanchett’s Oscar-worthy performance allows us to glimpse the fear, panic and vulnerability beneath Jasmine’s polished facade. That sense of sympathy doesn’t last for long though, as the film is set up in such a way that the audience’s feelings for Jasmine can change from one minute to the next.
At the end of the day, it is not about whether you like Jasmine or not, in the same way that this film is not about whether Jasmine is complicit or not in her husband’s crimes. Blue Jasmine is about a character’s disintegration as she spirals out of control; a tragedy without catharsis.