Insanity is perpetually a captivating subject for the silver screen. There is nothing like watching the character study of someone who has completely lost almost all command of his or her mental faculties. Occasionally, the topic is handled brilliantly. But, oftentimes in movies it is done incorrectly, insensitively, or just plain stupidly. There is a particular mixture of delicacy and aggression that must be included in order to make the psychotic character on display not just some cliché, but a full fledge being. The gifted auteur Woody Allen is well aware of this and he knows just what words are needed to give a disturbed lady her cinematic sparkle in his new film Blue Jasmine.
The film tells the story of Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), a Manhattan socialite married to a wealthy businessman named Hal (Alec Baldwin), who has been arrested by the FBI for extensive illegal activity. Consequently, Jasmine is forced to move in with her less fortunate sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco, forcing her to also contend with Ginger’s ex-husband, Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) and Ginger’s current boyfriend, Chili (Bobby Cannavale). With very little money to her name left and her sanity having almost entirely evaporated, Jasmine attempts to start a new life but soon learns her past errors refuse to leave her.
At the core of this tale, of course, is the emotional Jasmine. Ms. Blanchett is one of those “she could perform the phonebook and still be great” type of actresses. She plays Jasmine with an acute intelligence and a deep sense of despair. Her character’s mental hell is on full display. But, Blanchett performs carefully, never letting her character’s plight become too absurd or unrealistic, while remaining sensitive to the subject of mental illness. We have never seen someone play insane quite the way Ms. Blanchett does. Make no mistake though; Jasmine is certainly a selfish bitch, even before her rich life crumbles. She’s the sort of reprehensible person you never want to meet in real life. Nevertheless, Blanchett is astoundingly awesome as Jasmine.
Sally Hawkins plays Ginger, Jasmine’s charming sister. Hawkins is restrained where appropriate and aggressive where necessary. She plays Ginger with a free-spiritedness and an energy that is entirely unique to the actress. Ginger has an evolution of sorts. The character at the start of the show is a considerably different person from the one at the end. Ginger’s personal ascendance parallels her sister Jasmine’s plummeting from the grips of sanity, but Hawkins maintains an air of kindness and consideration throughout even if she makes some major mistakes before she reaches a sense of contentment with what she does have instead of what she does not.
Blue Jasmine is one of the finest films to come out of the United States in years and in my humble opinion, it is an even better picture than the much praised Midnight in Paris. Most of that feeling stems from my preference for the lead actors in Blue Jasmine over the lead actors in Midnight in Paris. Blue Jasmine is an almost perfect film and it is because of the glum nature in its central character that is blossoms so beautifully. Jasmine is not some recycled, nonsensical, overwritten woman that we have seen dozens of times before. It’s a character that even differs greatly from Vivien Leigh’s Blanche DuBois in 1951’s A Streetcar Named Desire, the classic that inspired this film. Still, out of Allen’s words, Blanchett produces a particular kind of mad woman that is compelling, affecting and at times, disturbingly authentic, with a dramatic downward spiral that is not to be missed. Like Allen’s gems Annie Hall, Manhattan, and Hannah and Her Sisters before it, Blue Jasmine embodies just what makes cinema cinema.