blue jasmine

Dir. Woody Allen
(2013, PG-13, 98 minutes)

When Blue Jasmine starts, it seems like a comedy about class: the title character (Cate Blanchett), a former New York socialite, loses everything and is forced to move in with her working class sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), in San Francisco. Their strained relationship at first is like a clash between the haves (superior, condescending) and have-nots (suspicious, resentful) in miniature.

But the film becomes more specific as it goes along. It develops into a character study about denial and alienation: Jasmine is driven to prescription drugs, alcohol, and sometimes madness by a simple inability to cope with the disconnect between life as it is and life as she imagines it should be.

Though comic, the film shows writer-director Woody Allen working with a darker, more serrated edge. His view of Jasmine is critical, sad, and merciless, but he avoids tipping over into abject meanness; she is a frustrating character, but she’s punished enough by her own behavior that she doesn’t need help from anyone else, and I ultimately felt sympathy for her, and admiration for the film’s unvarnished look at her dysfunction.

Much of that is due to Blanchett’s performance, which is big and flamboyant as Jasmine comes apart at the seams, but never mocking. Whether ranting, talking to herself, or being caught in a lie, there is always an undercurrent of desperate need that makes her more a tragic figure than a villain. I never particularly liked Jasmine – and I don’t think we’re meant to – but I wished, for her own sake, that she could envision herself in the life she’s actually living.