A Tale of Two Jasmines

By AJ Gilbert

I remember wandering past a poster for Blue Jasmine with a friend. When asked whether she would see it, she seemed uncertain, saying that it just seemed to be just a film about people with money. Our relationship with wealth and class is certainly the driving force behind Allen’s latest work, a tale of a former New York socialite whose life has imploded in the wake of her husband’s imprisonment for financial crimes and misdemeanours. Allen welcomes us into the film at the very centre of its narrative, and shows us the unfolding of a woman on the edge while darting back to past scenes of extravagant privilege. In doing so, the director shows us what a fall from grace that could be found in a Tennessee Williams narrative might look like in a post-Lehman Brothers world.

‘Your place is homely,’ Jasmine disappointedly remarks as she puts down her Louis Vuitton luggage in what must be the first bedroom she has recently been in without a corner dedicated to jewellery. She immediately mourns the fact that she is flat out broke while complaining how tired she is from her first class flight from West to East. Blanchett’s Jasmine is a woman whose default state is one of denial. As we find in flashbacks, she constantly looked the other way, not only when it came to her husband’s business affairs, but his extramarital ones too. Yet this denial, fuelled by alcohol and Xanax, becomes increasingly desperate and increasingly tragic.  Jasmine’s hysterical presence weighs heavy in the film as her eyes dart with cornered panic, her mouth sets in a cracked smile, and she begins to break.

Behind all this, of course, lurks the spectre of A Streetcar Named Desire. Jasmine has her roots in the white woods of Williams’ anti-heroine and builds her character on that foundation. Indeed, Blanchett famously played Blanche DuBois in Liv Ullmann’s stage production, but this is context that Allen has made much effort to downplay. Nevertheless, Blanchett is here playing a Blanche for our recession-afflicted era and Allen gladly explores further the dynamics already established by Williams.  Blanche’s reveries about a faded Southern aristocracy are replaced by the contemporary delusions bred by life as lived among the 1 Percent in Manhattan. Allen still manages to bring his unmistakable directorial voice to the script as William’s romantic sensibility is replaced by a very different urban neuroticism so characteristic of his work. He also allows room for humour but it is a scathing comedy, with a smile that looks like it might turn to tears at any moment.

While Blanchet’s towering performance is the wonderful core of this movie that is responsible for its success, Allen has managed to surround her with a faultless cast. Whether it be the obsessive Michael Stuhlbarg in his small role as a serious dentist, the surprising Andrew Dice Clay as an embittered ex laid low, or Alec Baldwin once again proving himself to be matchless in his depiction of slippery suavity, each screen presence perfectly complements Jasmine’s decline. But undoubtedly it is Sally Hawkins as Ginger who offers Blanchett the greatest support on screen. Combining the irrepressible vibrancy of her Poppy from the charmingly delightful Happy Go Lucky with the growing strength of character of Made in Dagenham’s Rita, Hawkins manages to make Jasmine’s overwhelming presence bearable and, ultimately, shows us a Jasmine for whom we can feel great sadness and sympathy.

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