I’ve posted movie reviews from time to time on Facebook, but this the first time I’ve written a blog about a film. However, it felt like the subject of this film merited a blog.
Blue Jasmine is a Woody Allen flick that hit the theaters in the past week. Oddly enough, it seems to be showing on more screens that his average romantic comedy. His latest effort is NOT in that genre. Most of his recent films have been quirky romantic comedies set in exotic European locales such as Barcelona and Paris. This is a drama–and a stark and uncomfortable one to view at that. Nevertheless, I found it fascinating.
Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) is a burnt out Xanax popping, Stoli drinking shell of a woman who is not only an addict but clearly mentally ill as well. When stressed or in crisis she stands in public places and talks to her voices. When the movie begins she is fleeing New York, and a former Park Avenue lifestyle, for San Francisco to move in temporarily with her kid sister, Ginger (the adorable Sally Hawkins).
Her smarmy ex-husband, Hal, type-cast by Alec Baldwin, is a junior Bernie Madoff–a narcissistic high stakes thief and serial philanderer. Eventually, like Madoff, it catches up with him and his multimillion dollar empire crumbles, and takes their jet-setting, house-in-the-Hamptons Town & Country, van Cleef and Arpels lifestyle with it.
The movie moves back and forth in flashbacks, but it makes the point that both Ginger and Jasmine were adopted. In both looks and personality they are nothing alike and their lives have played out in quite different fashion. Like my ex-wife Tiffany (also adopted), Jasmine is not her given name. It’s part of a made-up identity that she creates for herself as an adult–and is a way of further distancing herself from her roots.
Ginger is trying to rebuild her life too. She lives in a cramped second story two-flat with her two sons. She shares custody of them with Augie, her ex-husband (Andrew Dice Clay). Augie lost a 200k nest egg he won in the lottery by investing it with Hal, and that disaster accounts for the split with Ginger. Jasmine and Hal’s disdain for the working-class Ginger and Augie is palpable, and it is humbling for Jasmine to be forced to live with Ginger and to have to put up with her current low-life, grease-monkey boyfriend Chili, and her two ADHD sons.
There is more to the plot that I won’t reveal. However, almost magically, both Jasmine and Ginger get a shot at redemption in new relationships, but ultimately both are founded on lies–Ginger as the victim and Jasmine as the perpetrator. What fascinates me about this movie is what point (if any) was the Woodster trying to make. Does he see Jasmine as an object of sympathy or contempt? I suspect the latter, but it is not at all clear–and the lack of clarity is okay with me. Great art is often ambiguous.
I thought Cate Blanchett’s performance of a woman coming apart was brilliant and moving–an authenticity validated for me by a family of origin loaded with mental illness and alcoholism. Her isolation and the emptiness of her life truly made me want to cry. She lives a life without God and views other people as objects. However, I suspect that Allen sees her as a member of the parasitic class–those who create nothing but use other people’s money to fashion lifestyles of excess and conspicuous consumption for themselves–and so he may see Jasmine as deserving of the hell that she is living out.
We’ve all know people like Jasmine–self-absorbed and clueless–people who name drop and talk exceedingly about themselves and their possessions, but who seem never to have the time to listen to us. They are often people we disdain, and I generally try to avoid them. But inside those sad, sad people is a world of pain and in my better moments I try to remember to pray for them.