Blue Jasmine (2013)


Blue Jasmine is about a woman who’s life has bottomed out, and she’s trying to put things back together.  That’s what you think, at least, until the movie plays out and you realize she’s only sunk deeper.  Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) tries to patch the pieces of her life together by starting anew, but she is still reliving the wreckage of her past life, and she ultimately can’t escape the mess she created.

We meet Jasmine as she is chatting away with the person next to her on a flight from New York to San Francisco.  The passenger she talks to runs away as fast as she can, telling her husband that Jasmine just rambled on, talking to no one, and that this woman mistakenly got sucked in.  Jasmine is a little full of herself, and she’s accustomed to an expensive lifestyle, one that lingers as she flies first class despite being broke.  In addition, she pops pills and is mentally unstable, often talking to herself in public in a desperate attempt to stay composed.

She moves in with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), a sweet, hardworking mother of two who is engaged to Chili (Bobby Cannavale), a man who embodies everything Jasmine loathes (mainly that he’s a lower class working man).

Ginger is delicate with Jasmine, but it’s clear their relationship is strained.  In flashbacks we see that Ginger was married to Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), and that Augie never liked Jasmine.  Ginger and Augie visited Jasmine and her former husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) in New York.  Augie had just won $200,000 in a lottery and was encouraged by Jasmine to invest it with Hal.

Hal was involved in a Bernie Madoff-like scheme, losing all the money and going to prison.  Augie lost all the money too, and he has not forgiven Jasmine who persists that she is just a victim alongside him.  It’s also safe to assume that the financial scam led to Ginger and Augie’s divorce.

Ginger tries to help Jasmine get back on her feet, but nothing seems to stick.  Jasmine is constantly on edge and self-medicating while trying to preserve some semblance of the high-class life she had in New York.

At a party one afternoon, Ginger meets a nice man named Al (Louis C.K.), and Jasmine meets Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard).  Al seems like a step up from Augie and Chili, at least from Jasmine’s perspective, but we quickly learn that he’s married.  Ginger and Chili get back together in a surprisingly comforting end to their storyline.

Dwight is wealthy.  He’s kind, sure, but we don’t know that much else about him.  This is because Jasmine doesn’t know that much else about him.  Their relationship moves extremely quickly, and it only serves as an opportunity for Jasmine to reclaim the wealthy lifestyle she once enjoyed.

They decide to get married, but while out buying an engagement ring, they run into Augie who reminds Jasmine how much pain she caused him.  Because of losing all his money in Hal’s financial scam, Augie is forced to accept a job working in Alaska, taking away from his kids and the only life he’s known.

Dwight realize that Jasmine has been lying to him about… well, everything.  They get in an argument, and she demands to be let out of the car.  She makes her way to Oakland, learning from Augie that her step son Danny lives out there.  Danny cut off all connection with Jasmine after Hal went to prison, because it ruined his life, and we learn that he blames her.

When she confronts him, he only tells her he wants her out of his life so he can move on.  In the accompanying flashback it is revealed that Jasmine ratted out Hal to the FBI after uncovering his extramarital affairs.  This is when we realize that Jasmine isn’t as much the victim as she let on.  It’s still a gray area, certainly, but everyone involved blames her for what happened, most of all Danny.

In the end, Jasmine sits on a park bench, makeup and tears streaked down her face, and she begins to talk to herself once again, reliving the past mistakes that brought her here

This film became heavier and heavier as it went on.  At first glance this might be a comedy about an upper class woman, out of touch with reality, trying to get her life back on track.  That is what it is, but Jasmine is a tragic character.  She’s isolated from everyone and everything, and she makes her life harder because she can be so dismissive and rude to the people who care about her.  She’s struggling with her circumstances and with herself.

This has a lot of similarities to earlier Woody Allen dramas such as InteriorsSeptember and Another Woman.  Each of those films is about a woman dealing with guilt, family and herself.

Jasmine even pretends to be an interior decorator, lying to Dwight, just like Eve in Interiors.  In that 1978 film, Eve’s life is turned upside down when her husband leaves her out of the blue.  Eve is a little unstable too, and she tries to channel all her anguish into a productive hobby/occasional source of income: interior decorating.  It’s a good metaphor, because it involves putting things together and constructing an often false image.

Jasmine tries so hard to make it seem like everything is okay and even prospering.  She self-medicates, drinks and she lies about how great everything is.  She lies to Dwight about her whole life backstory, and she lies to Ginger and Chili in the end, neglecting to tell them that no, she’s not getting married and no, not everything is okay.

Jasmine can’t bear to let anyone get close to her.  She’s always maintaining an image, not just for the public but also for her closest loved ones.

She’s a leech in a lot of ways.  She grabbed onto Hal and enjoyed that lifestyle.  She moved in with charitable Ginger, and she grabbed onto Dwight in a similar fashion to Hal.  She feeds off of people and has little to give in return.

I went back and forth between pity and something disdain for Jasmine.  I don’t know what she should have done when it came to Hal’s financial scam.  Was she wrong for turning him in?  She ruined her family’s life (including Ginger and Augie), but I don’t know that she was completely wrong for doing that.  She admits to regretting it, knowing what it has cost her, but that’s why she regrets it, because she suffered for it.  Her character resists easy clarification, because she suffers from depression, and that illness often manifests itself in self-loathing ways that can put off other people.

If she didn’t lose all her money, and Danny didn’t disown her (both of which she probably didn’t anticipate), maybe she’d be okay with what she did.  As it is she is driven by a guilt felt so deeply that she doesn’t know it exists.  It’s like a repressed memory, which is what that memory was, I guess.  When the audience gets the reveal, it’s like Jasmine only just remembered it, like she was trying to figure out where it all went wrong, and she’s just as surprised as we are.

The structure of this film, with the inter spliced flashbacks and revealing how they affect the present, felt a lot like Arrival, only because I just saw it.  That’s an aside, but it really reminds me of that.

Ginger and Jasmine are not related.  They’re sisters, but they’re both adopted, contributing to their different appearances and probably their completely different personalities.  Jasmine’s son Danny isn’t her biological son too, so even though Jasmine does have some family, she doesn’t have any blood family.  It’s just another way of distancing her from the world.  Her family exists in name only.

But Danny uses that to help justify getting away from her while Ginger is incredibly welcoming to Jasmine, even though she probably has every right to want to turn her away. Angie and Chili both dislike Jasmine, though Chili tries to accept her.  He’s a good guy, and I really found myself rooting for the Ginger and Chili relationship.  But the temporary Ginger/Al relationship was kind of nice too.  I thought Al was a good guy, as did Ginger.  Interestingly enough, Ginger tries to justify her new romance with Al over Chili because Al has a better job.  When Chili confronts her, full go anguish, at her job at the grocery store, she tells him, with frustration, that she doesn’t want to be bagging groceries all her life.  She implies that a life with Chili will be a less fortunate one, and this is where Jasmine’s influence bleeds through.

In the end, due to Al having a wife, Ginger gets back with Chili, and it’s like Jasmine’s spell wore off.  Jasmine disappears from Ginger’s apartment while Ginger and Chili are laughing and falling into bed with each other.  Their romance is full of hope while none of Jasmine’s ever were.

Lastly, all of Woody Allen’s dramas center around family, as if it’s something that weighs you down, something you’re born with like unbreakable chains.  A lot of his other films (comedies and dramas alike) involve a character getting into hot water because he or she pursues an affair or someone they shouldn’t just because they are so drawn to that person.  His heavy dramas deal less with things the characters pursue as it does with the things characters are stuck with.  The characters, in a sense, are born in quicksand and slowly falling deeper into the earth from day 1.

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