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Damsel in Distress

by Laura Leon on August 22, 2013

Blue Jasmine
Directed by Woody Allen


As he has in the past, Woody Allen proves his talent for depicting frazzled women in a way that perhaps only Pedro Almodovar, or in the past, George Stevens, could. Blue Jasmine refers to the title character (Cate Blanchett) and her descent into lunacy following the breakup—or, rather, implosion—of her marriage and jet-set life. Seems hubby Hal (Alec Baldwin) was a Bernie Madoff sort; through a series of flashback scenes we get the sense that Jasmine, while perhaps not equally complicit in her husband’s fraudulent schemes, may have had a least a passing knowledge of what side her bread was buttered. Bereft of the imprisoned Hal and their once-lavish bank account, she is forced to take up residence in her sister Ginger’s (Sally Hawkins) San Francisco apartment, where she talks about assuming a career in interior design as she answers phones for a dentist.

Blanchett in Blue Jasmine

Much of the trauma Jasmine is forced to deal with is what most viewers deal with on a daily basis: not enough money to do what we want, having to work a mindless job. That Allen, and most notably Blanchett, can make this seem almost sympathetic is remarkable. This might have a lot to do with the very obvious fact that Jasmine is losing her mind, as evidenced by a succession of lies of omission and commission that she lays on people throughout the narrative. Fueled by vodka and Xanax, she teeters on the edge of absolute ruination—but not before trying to get Ginger to transform herself into someone more worthy of her self-esteem. The script has some convoluted notions about why Ginger and Jasmine don’t look anything at all like sisters, and one can’t help but think that Allen, able to hire two excellent actresses at the same time, just threw common sense to the wind. Regardless, Hawkins is enchanting, the little sister in awe of Jasmine but bridling somewhat at her sibling’s expectations.

Blue Jasmine is dark and sobering, and yet, somehow, Blanchett makes us feel the comedic aspects of what is essentially an American tragedy. Undoubtedly, the comparisons between this and A Streetcar Named Desire are well-deserved and intentioned; each offers a troubled heroine who comes undone by forces larger than herself. The Bay Area setting is very different for a Woody Allen movie, but the emotional nuances, the deft blend of drama and comedy, make for one of the filmmaker’s best movies ever.