'Blue Jasmine' (2013) Movie Review

Blue Jasmine movie review
Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine
Photo: Sony Pictures Classics

It simply didn't "click" for me while watching, but shortly after seeing Woody Allen's latest feature, Blue Jasmine, a fellow critic pointed out the parallels to Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer Prize-winning stage play "A Streetcar Named Desire". It's an apt comparison and surely an intentional one and Cate Blanchett, whom played Blanche DuBois on stage as recently as 2009, delivers a powerful performance in what can only be described as a modern day upgrade with a satirical spin on one percenters.

Blue Jasmine
Grade: B-

Blue Jasmine"Blue Jasmine" is a Sony Pictures Classics release, directed by Woody Allen and is rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, language and sexual content.

The cast includes Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Peter Sarsgaard, Louis C.K., Sally Hawkins, Charlie Tahan, Alden Ehrenreich, Tammy Blanchard, Michael Stuhlbarg and Bobby Cannavale.

Here Blanchett plays the title character, Jasmine, a name she's given herself as she abandoned her birth name, Jeanette, upon marrying Hal (Alec Baldwin), her investment banker sugar daddy. Allen paints Hal as a Bernie Madoff-esque character and chosen to tell a present-day story mixed with a variety of flashbacks as this one-time New York socialite is brought back down to earth and forced to move to San Francisco to live with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), once Hal is hauled off to jail for his shady dealings.

Lost, bewildered and occasionally seen talking to herself, Jasmine arrives to find she and Ginger couldn't be leading their lives any more differently. Used to the high life, but now penniless, Jasmine is learning to cope with her new surroundings, but the mere mention of a familiar word can cause her memory to wander back to "better" times.

While flashbacks are normally an annoying crutch on which a film director leans for lack of a better story-telling device, here they offer a window into the world Jasmine comes from in comparison to the world that now surrounds her. Ginger and Jasmine were both adopted. Ginger is a free spirit, she works at a grocery store, has two kids from a previous marriage and is currently dating a local grease monkey played by Bobby Cannavale (The Station Agent). She takes life as it comes at her and the fact she even talks to her sister is a testament to her good nature as Jasmine looks down on her at every turn.

Despite this is a Woody Allen feature, you may have already guessed Blue Jasmine isn't a comedy. It's more a melancholy drama, which keeps the "Streetcar" comparison firmly in play while Allen only briefly offers little satirical jabs of humor here and there. Unfortunately, the end result is middling, despite a powerhouse performance from Blanchett.

To suggest Cate Blanchett can act is to call the sky blue as she's been recognized for everything from playing the Queen of England and Katharine Hepburn to the embodiment of Bob Dylan. Here she tackles every neurotic bone in Jasmine's body with perfection. Even though most of us don't know someone like this, Blanchett, along with Allen's script, bring us into Jasmine's world. This is a character easy to hate, but you can't help but sympathize.

Jasmine's delusional view of the world has clouded her judgment to such an extent, it's not clear whether she even believes the things she's saying most of the time as she "pooh-poohs" her early collegiate attempt to become an anthropologist while at the same time considering continuing her education, only this time to become an interior decorator.

Allen uses this moment to make one of the film's more obvious societal accusations as Jasmine decides she's going to go back to school, but not design school, instead school to learn how to use a computer so she can take design courses online. The mere fact she doesn't see the ridiculous nature of the path she has laid out in front of her is enough to look on with equal measures of pity and contempt. Blanchett owns every minute of her character's confused alternate reality, but she isn't without some impressive support, though the supporting characters do present some of the film's larger issues.

Sally Hawkins is rarely disappointing and she's perfectly cast here as Jasmine's sister, but her character is so one note and forgiving it's tiresome. At least once I would have liked to have seen some real spark out of Ginger, but she's almost as delusional as Jasmine and wholly unwilling to confront her. I understand allowing things to slide off your back, but at some point you've got to stick up for yourself and a whole side-story involving her and a character played by Louis C.K. is entirely worthless considering it's overall effect on the narrative is little to nothing.

I also received little pleasure out of Bobby Cannavale as Ginger's uncouth boyfriend Chili, who deserves a door be slammed in his face from minute one. More interesting and surprisingly impressive is Andrew Dice Clay as Ginger's ex, Augie. Augie hit it big a couple years earlier at the lottery, but eventually lost it all when Hal invested it and was later indicted. To say bad blood still bubbles warm on Augie's end would be an understatement and Dice has more than a couple great moments of true acting.

Michael Stuhlbarg plays a dentist who forces himself on Jasmine and Peter Sarsgaard strikes up a relationship with her, but isn't aware of what he's in for, but all of this is either unnecessary (Stuhlbarg especially) or secondary to the ultimate showcase of Blanchett's talents. In fact, had Blanchett not delivered the performance we see here I'm quite positive we wouldn't be talking about this film much if at all.

It's rare I can take so much enjoyment out of a performance, but walk away from the film as a whole rather muted. Typically I have a hard time allowing myself to suggest a film is worth seeing merely for one performance alone, but I think Blue Jasmine qualifies. Blanchett is great here and as I said to the same critic that offered up the "Streetcar" comparison, there are few times a Woody Allen film isn't, at the very least, worth watching. The guy has had a few stumbling blocks here and there, but for the most part even his bigger misses are more entertaining than almost everything else in theatres at the same time.


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  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/brace/ brace

    I totally agree with the last sentence!
    hopefully I'll find more enjoyment in this movie than just Blanchett's performance.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/TheLastEquivocationofBrist/ TheLastEquivocationofBrist

    Nice review! Sounds like Bobby Cannavale doesn't live up to Marlon Brando here, too bad. As soon as you said grease monkey I thought "wow, this really does sound like Streetcar."

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Mv11391/ Michael

    Always look forward to Woody Allen movies but i'm seeing this just for Blanchett's performance. She's one of the GREATEST actors ever to me, she's amazing in almost everything.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      Then prepare to enjoy.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Mv11391/ Michael

        I will, where would you rank her performance here of her best?

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/andyluvsfilms/ andyluvsfilms

    Nice review Brad. I can't say i've ever looked forward to any new Woody Allen film but i still end up watching most of them and there are some that i own and watch repeatedly, this one i'm actually anticipating.
    From what i saw in the trailer and from reading your review, Cate Blanchett gives one of those virtuoso performances that you may only see a few times a year. Woody's films have always been a bit hit and miss, probably more to do with the law of averages as he's constantly working but he is one auteur that we'll all miss once he's gone.

  • http://www.smartfilm.blogspot.com SmartFilm

    I'm surprised you didn't immediately see the Streetcar parallels. They came so often and were so unmasked. I was just annoyed by how borrowed if felt, as pretty much every character and beat was culled straight from Tennessee William's play. It just didn't feel like the inspired work of an auteur.

    Blanchett is incredible and will most certainly be nominated for Best Actress. Four slots to go.

    More thoughts here: http://smartfilm.blogspot.com/2013/07/out-in-theaters-blue-jasmine_26.html

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Travis/ Travis

    See, I've never been a fan of Blanchett, but I think this will be decent. I'll check it out

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Hudsucker/ Hudsucker

    How was Alec Baldwin?

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/RandallPMcMurphy/ Randall P McMurphy

    I'll try and check out "A Streetcar Named Desire" before this, I'm liking these comparisons, like the one with "Top Gun" and "Pacific Rim", those two films were very alike.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/kevinb/ kevinb

    I have been waiting for a role written like this for Cate Blanchett. Considering the ratio of success that Allen has with his actresses being nominated for Oscars and then actually winning, I would say Blanchett stands an excellent shot at winning her first Best Actress Oscar. Plus the fact that with two of her previous nominations (the first Elizabeth movie and the Bob Dylan one), she could EASILY already be a 3 time Oscar winner). I could tell from the trailer that this performance is more than just memorable. I cannot wait for it to open here in S.F. !!

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/denade/ hamidreza naderi

      I totally agree with the first Elizabeth and the Bob Dylan movie. Paltrow may be a fine actress and Shakespeare movie had its own moments, but Blanchett's Elizabeth was far far more credible that year. However, the Statue history is full of these unbelievable mistakes. Here is Jasmine. No matter who was Blanchett before, her turn as Jasmine is as delicious as the taste of an astringent persimmon. She certainly is the best actress this year so far, but I can hardly see her a winner at the oscar show. Not a typical role for the night. Damn the oscar, just enjoy the pure essence of acting, the real meaning of a classy performance under the magnificent Blanchett's spell.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/dam94/ dam94

    I completely agree with Brad on the point that Blanchett is worth the price of admission. A recommend from me based on that. She will certainly be a name repeated during Oscar season. Prospects on Best Original Screenplay? I don't think so, but I have a feeling SPC will be pushing this at the SAG Awards for Best Ensemble.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/zm/ zm

    Hal is a money manager, not an investment banker. Sorry, just a pet peeve.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/kathrynlynn/ kathrynlynn

    I walked into this film knowing virtually nothing about it- I avoided trailers and articles- I wanted to experience it as unbiased as possible, but I had heard that Blanchett was great.

    And that is absolutely undeniable.

    I can see validity to your assessment of some of the supporting characters, I wanted Ginger to have a stronger "stand up" moment, but I found her really endearing, and I think she matched with Blanchett well.

    One of my favorite scenes, in which I thought all the characters nailed their performances in such a subtle and brilliant way, is when ginger and her husband augie come to new york and they have the initial meet and greet with jasmine and hal. I enjoyed these small moments where the dialogue and body language is so important... and I felt like the film flourished in scenes like this.