“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
– George Santayana
Neuroticism is a oft common theme of Woody Allen’s work, and the same can certainly be said of the titular Jasmine in his new film Blue Jasmine; New York socialite Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) – who “…[can’t] stop babbling about her life.” – flies to San Francisco to live with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) after her comfortable and luxurious life and marriage to wealthy businessman Hal (Alec Baldwin) falls apart, resulting in a mental breakdown and her being found talking to herself on the street.
Jasmine is high on a cocktail of anti-depressants, far from home, and clearly out of her depth. The two sisters could not be more different, made even more apparent by them being adopted. Ginger is street smart, and seems happy, but lacks real drive; her raison d’etre seems to be to find a husband and father figure for her two kids, and Jasmine vocally admonishes her often for the losers she dates. Jasmine, on the other hand, projects an aristocratic, privileged bearing, but it is a facade to hide her emotionally precarious nature, and complete inability to support herself.
There’s a screenwriting term that “status equals death”, so something has to change; Jasmine, with Ginger’s encouragement, finds a slight sense of direction in studying interior design – well, taking a class in computers, so that she can study interiour design online – and accepting receptionist work in a dentist’s office. It’s classic fish-out-of-water comedy, but it’s fun to watch. Ginger also sees her chance for change in Al (Louis C.K.) whom she considers a step up from her previous boyfriends.
There are two stories running in tandem; the first, Jasmine (and to a lesser extent Ginger) trying to change themselves, the second, through a series of flashbacks the story of what has lead Jasmine to her breakdown. The title is a play on the name of our hero, and the song that was playing when she first met Hal, Blue Moon – which she informs strangers of frequently – but also a hint at the character’s state of mind, both in that she, Jasmine, is blue, and that she is clinging on to the past, and the sense of identity she gained from it. It’s not revealing too much to tell you that Jasmine was actually born Jeanette, which, when you reach the film’s end, you realise was some very subtle forshadowing, much like the title.
Cate Blanchett remarks of the character, “…it’s very telling that she didn’t call herself Scarlett or something completely different—she always steps slightly sideways from the truth. Small fantasies like this are harmless in of themselves, but the more you do it, the further you get away from reality.”
Jasmine’s tragedy is that her self-worth is entirely dependent on how she thinks others perceive her, and this, sadly, is the instrument of her own destruction. It’s really hard to say any more without revealing the story, but there are some bittersweet ironic moments, some fleeting moments of depth and character development, and some rather good bookending.
- Woody Allen directs a cast including Alec Baldwin, Cate Blanchett, Lois C.K., Bobby Cannavale, Andrew Dice Clay, Sally Hawkings, Peter Sarsgaard and Michael Stuhlbarg.
- Psychological/Drama Film
- Blue Jasmine opens in cinemas September 12. Prices vary.