Cate Blanchett’s character, Jasmine French, recalls some of America’s most famous (and dubious) literary characters: Daisy Buchanan, Blanche Dubois, and Lady Brett Ashley immediately come to mind. As a character, Jasmine is a traditional, 20th century woman of means—tasteful, reserved, and elegant at first glance, but deeply troubled by the fragmentary life that surrounds her. The only constant in Jasmine’s life is her addictive personality, which craves glamour, wealth, and vodka in equal parceling.
Jasmine’s counterpart is her sister, Ginger. Where Jasmine is deeply crippled by the complexities of her own mind, Ginger is plain, simple, and realistic. And though the movie is officially entitled Blue Jasmine, the story depicts both Jasmine and Ginger’s lives. After Jasmine’s husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), is sent to jail for his fraudulent investing schemes, she abandons her past as a Manhattan socialite and flies to San Francisco to move in with her lower middle-class sister (Streetcar, anyone? Allen’s tribute feels even more apparent when Ginger’s boyfriend/fiancé Chili enters the picture, bringing to mind the character of Stanley). Blue Jasmine’s funniest moments spring from this inversion of the classic rags-to-riches story. Jasmine’s stint as a receptionist at a dentist’s office is one of the movie’s best sequences, and gives the movie some much needed breathing room from its darker side.
But make no mistake—this is no dreamy stroll with Owen Wilson along the Boulevard Saint-Germain. Blue Jasmine is much more Manhattan than it is Annie Hall, with tendencies to make note of the vapid and insecure sides of the human psyche. Blue Jasmine’s saddest moments are barbed, bitter, and caustic. Yet it is precisely this burdensome melancholy that endows the story with its deepest, most thought-provoking moments. You follow Cate Blanchett on a 98-minute trip through time, motored on by a steady stream of Xanax, Stoli martinis (with a twist of lemon), and general malaise. But at the same time, it’s remarkably simple, and is in essence an exposé of life and people. Everyone knows a Jasmine or a Ginger, and most importantly we’ve been where they are. Past and present seam into and through one another, and your own choices, good or bad, seem to follow you through the film just as they follow Jasmine.
At times, it harps too much on these finer points of theme, overextending from the inner contemplation of Jasmine’s problems to melodramatic, unrealistic confrontations between Jasmine and her family. The acting isn’t perfect either; Alec Baldwin leaves a lot to be desired, although he’s clearly quite comfortable with his “I’m a rich privileged asshole” type-casting. Peter Sarsgaard’s cameo as Jasmine’s love interest in the later parts of the film is also a bit untidy, but this is likely due to an underdeveloped storyline.
These aside, Blue Jasmine is an impeccably beautiful look at the microscopic moments throughout our lives, a movie filled to the brim with humor, regret, vindication, and defeat. And though most have described Blue Jasmine as a “downer,” and rightly so when compared to Allen’s 2011 film Midnight in Paris, its message and conclusion are bleakly and enigmatically uplifting. The film’s strength is its unbiased approach to its characters—no one is innocent. Some characters feel less alienating than others do, sure, but no one person achieves what they first sought at the film’s beginning. And though it has no concrete resolution, Blue Jasmine is unquestionably real and personal. The characters are free from moralization… and just simply are. Therein lies the beauty of this curious little movie.