When Woody Allen makes a comedy, we welcome it as a return to form, and when he makes a drama, it is usually so dark that we feel lost and reject it as part of his oeuvre. But Allen has managed to merge both genres every once in a while with moderate success. "Crimes and Misdemeanors" being one of his highlights.
On paper, "Blue Jasmine" seems to belong to the "September", "Another Woman" and "Interiors" group of darker dramas, but locating the story during a sunny summer in San Francisco, Allen has changed its pace, and the inclusion of an excellent cast that includes Sally Hawkins, Andrew Dice Clay, Bobby Cannavale and Alec Baldwin, it brings the drama to a more comedic mood.
Now, lets not forget this is also one of his few films with an actual lead character (as opposed to his ensemble pieces), and that the actor playing Jasmine is the phenomenal Cate Blanchett. I was reminded of Gena Rowland and Geraldine Page in the profound psychological ordeal she endures throughout the film, but I believe she has more connections with the fragile Cecilia, Mia Farrow’s character in Allen’s Masterpiece "The Purple Rose Of Cairo".
Woody has never adapted a story from another writer, but Jasmine seems the closest he has reinterpreted a famous landmark in theater: Blanche Dubois, from Tennessee William’s "A Streetcar Name Desire". As the movie begins, Jasmine arrives at her sister Ginger’s little apartment and finds that she’s not there. She brings with her more than the Louis Vuitton luggage: a desperate backstory that won’t let her breathe and forces her to engage in an on-going self-conversation as a way to make peace with her traumatic recent past.
But Allen intercuts the current story of how Jasmine tries to rebuild her present, with the recent past events and we find out that she married a crook and philander liar who destroyed her sister’s first marriage to Augie and torn her life apart by going to jail, killing himself and separating her from her son. The trauma is further deepened when we know she’s the one blowing the whistle on him right after he confessed to love another woman in a cold and matter-of-fact way. On top of that, Allen makes Jasmine a multi-level entity, capable of being completely self aware of her situation and at the same time locking herself out of it as if it didn't exist just by looking away. She keeps projecting on everybody her own problems, specially on Ginger "You choose loser because you think that's what you deserve", but the truth is all of Ginger's lovers seem to be really attached and want a second chance...and never cheated). Jasmine is self-aware of this, which is why at a certain moment, in one of her many soliloquies (this time in front of Ginger's sons as she is babysitting) she confesses to herself "anxiety, nightmares and a nervous break down...there's only so many traumas a person can withstand before taking to the street and start screaming".
Jasmine seems to inhabit her own bourgeoisie lifestyle, seeing herself as more than anyone else in the film. But Woody actually cares for her, and gives her plenty of opportunities to redirect her life through numerous “gentlemen-callers’, the last one being the best prospect to bring her life to where she wants. But the character has been damaged too deeply and at a certain moment, in one of her many soliloquies (this time in front of Ginger's sons as she is babysitting) she confesses to herself "anxiety, nightmares and a nervous break down...there's only so many traumas a person can withstand before taking to the street and start screaming". Eventually, as Cecilia did at the end of "The Purple Rose...", we see her again hopelessly talking to herself in a never-ending conversation that finds no answers, no satisfaction and no closure.
This is one of the fewest Allen’s films that leaves us deeply saddened, a U-turn from his latest successes with "Midnight in Paris" and "From Rome with Love". At least Cecilia had her movies to go back to when she needed to lose herself in fantasy. Jasmine falls in the same deep well Blanche did, to never come back again.
Cate Blanchett here becomes a pure Woody Allen tragic character. Her brain is connected to her mouth and she is a bundle of rhetorical verbiage criticizing, judging, analyzing, self-deprecating and eventually lying to find some kind of solace in a fantastic reality. Physically Blanchett immerses in Jasmine so deeply that it leaves a mark, and it may very well be her most influential work to date.