Blue Jasmine (2013)

In a genuine positive surprise Woody Allen’s Oscar winning film Blue Jasmine proves to be much grander affair than a mere topical dramedy that was heavily inspired by the somewhat recent, highly publicized Bernie Madoff investment scandal like it initially seemed to be. The film features an engrossing, semi-tragic story of self-deception and vanity that, like an onion, unfolds through layers upon layers of intricate plotting, marvelous character beats and unexpected plot twits that in clever manner interconnect and together build up a fragile house of cards which, in true tragicomedy fashion, ultimately has to come tumbling down.

While the film did not grab me quite as much as some of Allen’s other works, watching it did fill me up with plenty of excitement and joy. It’s a fun film that at times is a bit sad and tragic, even slightly depressing and melancholic, while other times it’s a delightfully funny with captivating drama. It is also structurally very clever. At first glance the movie seems to be entirely just about Jasmin, played by Cate Blanchett, trying to recover from a nervous breakdown by moving in with her sister, Ginger, after Jasmine’s rich New York socialite lifestyle was obliterated in a blink of an eye when her wealthy businessman husband Hal, played by Alec Baldwin, was exposed to be a Ponzi  scheme charlatan. But as you get further into the movie, bit by bit you start to realize that you’ve actually been watching a very elaborate story about Jasmine’s self-deceptive, narcissistic vanity and how it led to her breakdown and ruin. Despite all  the  reminiscent and cute stories that Jasmine tells throughout the movie about her seemingly perfect past life and how she was complete oblivious to her husband’s shady business dealings and lies, the truth is much uglier. As it turns out, Jasmine knew far more than she let on about Hal’s businesses and her marriage was not as happy and ideal as she had painted it as. In a particularly delicious and ironical plot twist, you discover it was Jasmine herself who ratted Hal to the FBI in a fit of jealous rage after she had discovered that Hal had been cheating on her with a much, much younger woman and that he was planning to file for a divorce.

All in all, Jasmine is a fascinating protagonist. She’s sympathetic, but at the same time, rather pathetic and unlikable figure. This is a woman who, after all, knowingly led her sister Ginger astray by talking her and her husband into investing their entire $200,000 nest egg through Hal’s crooked dealings despite the obvious risks, rather let them use the money to start a construction business like they had originally planned. And naturally, when the worst comes to worst and Ginger and her husband lose everything when Hal’s Ponzi scheme goes public, Jasmine refuses to admit any guilt from her part. There’s just something oddly appealing about how Jasmine is so egotistical and self-absorbed that she’s completely out of touch with other people. The world revolves around her and she can’t help herself from always making everything be about her and her problems, while having very little if any real regard to other people, it’s very comedic in a tragic way.

A great example of Jasmine’s detachment from reality is when she arrives at her sister Ginger’s place, and complains how in the aftermath of the scandal and the subsequent indictments she’s lost everything and barely has any money, only to reveal a moment later nonchalantly that she flew there in First Class. Her narcissistic disregard for anybody but her feelings even carries over when Jasmine gains another chance at (her own superficial view of) happiness when she gets romantically involved with a wealthy and handsome diplomat, played by Peter Sarsgaard. Rather than being frank about her past, she poisons the relationship from the start by lying about who she is by inventing a more glamorous sounding backstory for herself, which is just insane considering how famous her husband’s case was. It just further proves how delusional Jasmine is about herself and her need to climb the social ladder, it doesn’t seem to even occur to her how doomed her facade is. Even after she gets engaged with Sarsgaard’s character, she still fails to tell the truth and it is not until she is caught on the lie red handed that she finally has to admit deceit and by then it is far too late for honesty.

There’s just something exceptionally magnetic about Jasmine and how broken and delusional she is. It’s really no wonder Blanchett went on to win an Academy Award for her performance in this film, her portrayal of Jasmine is spectacular. She is able to make Jasmine entirely believable as the fragile, nervous wreck of a woman towards whom you can’t help but to feel sympathy for despite her occasional snobbish personality traits, and then, subtly as you slowly discover her true nature and learn about her inherent narcissism, it all comes together beautifully and forms the complex, ugly picture of the type of flawed person Jasmine truly is. In hindsight the truth was always there, just below the surface, subtly shown throughout Jasmine’s actions, if you only had been able to read the signs. Her vain self-absorbedness and need to better herself through rising into the upper echelon of the social classes is on certain levels entirely believable and it works wonderfully as a major character flaw. When Jasmine briefly manages to imprint her snobbish “you can do better” mentality and values on her sister and gets her to dismiss her current boyfriend Chili, who is merely a mechanic, it flawlessly encapsulates how destructive that sort of vain look of life can be, as Ginger’s imitation of Jasmine’s ideals leads her into dating a man (played by Louis C.K.) who initially seems be the prince of her dreams, only for him to be revealed later that he was in fact a married man cheating on her wife.

In hindsight I can’t help but to feel regret and a little bit of shame for having dismissed the film for so long as entirely skippable, based entirely on the rather uneventful and dull trailer that didn’t seem to offer much in terms of compelling plot and cast. Blue Jasmine is a wonderful addition to Allen’s filmography, and feels very much like one that has enough weight to become one of his better remembered works.

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