“Blue Jasmine” Movie Review

     Woody Allen’s new film “Blue Jasmine” stands as the famous writer/director’s best film in years.  Whereas many felt the same about 2011’s “Midnight in Paris”, the writing, the story, and the performances from the lead characters to the supporting players are all at another level for this film.  Allen has certainly outdone himself here and has a film that will likely garner massive amounts of praise come awards season.  A standout performance by Cate Blanchett sets the stage for those who share the screen with her, as she seems to bring out the best in the cast in every scene.  The work done by all involved is truly a marvel to watch as it unfolds on screen and the story is one that will resonate with almost anyone who sees the film.  This is the type of story that should capture similar emotions in people that “Silver Linings Playbook” did last year, though the lack of a wide commercial release will put limits on the film’s box office chances.

     Jasmine (Blanchett) is on a plane to San Francisco, not for a vacation, but to move in with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), and her two kids.  This is out of financial desperation as a once very wealthy woman is now down on her luck.  Allen tells the story of Jasmine’s initial downfall with flashbacks to better times.  We first see her arrive at Ginger’s apartment and her disgust in the living conditions is apparent from the beginning.  Ginger lives a very normal middle class apartment, but it’s not what Jasmine is used to.

     Once a upon a time, Jasmine was married to a powerful financier named Hal (Alec Baldwin).  As his wife, Jasmine lives in a world where money is no object and her life’s work typically revolves around charitable activities and planning the next dinner party.  They live in a lavish mansion outside of New York City and don’t seem to exhibit a care in the world.  Of course, nothing in life is perfect and that includes Hal’s dirty business dealings as well as a number of extramarital affairs.  Ultimately, circumstances force Jasmine to start a new life with much less.

     Jasmine is one interesting character study.  Apparently the victim of a nervous breakdown, she pops pills seemingly every minute, using Vodka to wash them down.  She obviously suffers from a number of serious mental disorders including being bipolar, but also regularly can be seen having conversations with herself.  Clearly the aftershock of having it all and then coping with losing everything.  She maintains a snooty arrogance throughout the story, always appearing to people she comes in contact with that she thinks she’s better than they are.  This applies especially to Ginger, who has her own self esteem issues and regularly succumbs to Jasmine’s mean spirited evaluations of her love life.

     As more of the backstory is revealed, we learn about Ginger’s life when she was once married.  In what has to be the acting surprise of the year, Andrew Dice Clay debuts as a serious actor, playing Ginger’s ex-husband, Augie.  Turns out Augie won $200,000 playing the lottery and had planned to use the money to start a contracting business.  To celebrate their winning, Augie and Ginger venture to New York to visit Jasmine and Hal.

     In one of the most awkwardly comical scenes of the film, we see how a rich couple tries to be gracious with a lower middle class couple.  Even though it’s her sister, Jasmine clearly doesn’t know how to socially interact with Ginger and Augie as she and Hal offer to pay their hotel bill, rather than offer up a room in their sprawling mansion.  During conversation, Jasmine asks Hal if he could help out Augie and Ginger with investing their newly won money and of course Hal is more than happy to help.  Fast forward to the present, we learn Hal lost all of Augie and Ginger’s money, which led quickly to their divorce.  Dice’s performance as Augie hits just the right note and the casting couldn’t be more spot on.  A daring choice by Allen that clearly paid off.

     In the present, Ginger is being courted by her boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale), whom Jasmine immediately dislikes, dismissing him as another loser Ginger is settling for.  Concurrently, Jasmine tries to settle into a normal life, taking a computer class so as to some day get an online degree in interior decorating, while trying to hold down a receptionist job at a dental office.  When a classmate invites her to a party, she meets Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard), who seems to offer her a chance at the life she once had.  To ensure Dwight falls for her, she becomes delusional and tells him a number of lies, while concealing the truth about her past.  This leads the story to its third act with the proceedings not exactly favoring Jasmine to come out ahead.  It’s a story not unlike the one Jason Reitman told two years ago in his film “Young Adult”, where you have a woman who once tasted success and will do anything to get it back as if she’s entitled to it.

     With “Blue Jasmine”, Cate Blanchett becomes the immediate frontrunner for the Best Actress Oscar  and it will take one hell of a performance to surpass her achievement with this character.  It’s a multilayered performance requiring her to change on a dime from the rich wife of a Wall Street tycoon to a broken down shell of her former self.  To the same extent, Allen’s script is filled with characters who speak on a number of different levels, allowing everyone to find a character in the film they can root for, perhaps because they may see themselves in that character.  In this post recession world we live in, I have to figure there are plenty of real life stories out there like this one, and Allen has made it easy to see why.  GRADE: A