Imagine if Blanche DuBois was married to Bernie Madoff and you have an idea of the flavor of Woody Allen's latest film, "Blue Jasmine."
As the story of Jasmine French (a scorching performance by Cate Blanchett) unfolds, you can't help but immediately think of Ruth Madoff, the elegant, suffering wife of financial swindler Bernie Madoff. A Park Avenue socialite, she knows all the best people, throws the best parties and wears the best clothes and jewels. Her husband, Hal, (well played by that old slickster Alec Baldwin) keeps her in the dark and she seems to be a willing innocent, content to let him deal with the business while she tends to their social life.
|Jasmine and Hal before the fall|
We first meet Jasmine after the fall. She has left New York and run to San Francisco to live with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), a character as down to earth as Jasmine is in the clouds. The reach of Jasmine's husband's thievery extended all the way to Ginger, whose ex-husband lost his lottery windfall by listening to Hal's bad investment advice. Ginger now has a new brutish boyfriend, Chili, (shades of Stanley Kowalski) and the mundane, unrefined life that Jasmine must now share with Ginger frightens and repels her.
|Ginger and Chili argue over the produce|
Jasmine, like Blanche, is a wounded bird who lives in a dreamland. She longs for the beautiful but is confronted with ugliness wherever she turns. Ginger's boyfriend thinks she is a snob and Jasmine tries to convince Ginger she can do better, driving a wedge between the formerly happy couple.
|Hal gets ready to fleece his brother-in-law|
Jasmine gives ordinary life a try (she works for an amorous dentist and tries to learn how to work a computer), but her prayers are seemingly answered when she meets Dwight, a rich widower with political ambitions. Dwight has no idea who she is and Jasmine, knowing that the truth would make a commitment from Dwight impossible, lives a lie and almost gets a ring, but fate, in the person of Ginger's fleeced ex-husband, intervenes and her identity is revealed on the street right in from of the jewelry store that sells the ring she almost got.
|Jasmine, like Blance Du Bois, cannot deny the ugly truth|
Before Jasmine came to San Francisco, we learned that she had been found wandering the streets of New York, talking to herself. Our last view of Jasmine is as a confused woman, sitting on a bench talking to herself. However, it does not appear that the kindness of strangers can save her.
The laughs are more like chuckles here, as Woody is going for a penetrating character portrait of a broken woman. She is a phony, but the make-believe that was the foundation of her former life is all that she has to cling to. The fact that she is shallow and somewhat unsympathetic does not make her plight any less harrowing. Sure, Marie Antoinette fiddled while Paris burned, but we kind of felt bad when she lost her head, and we know Blanche put on airs, but we pitied her, nonetheless. And there always those who stand on the sidelines and smile with smug delight when the mighty are brought low.
As always, the performances in a Woody Allen film are stellar. Cate Blanchett is perfection and she is well supported by Baldwin, Hawkins, Louis C.K. as a philandering fling for Ginger, Peter Sarsgaard as Dwight and Bobby Cannavale as Chili, giving a real Stanley Kowalski-type performance. A pleasant surprise is the very good performance by Andrew Dice Clay as Ginger's bitter ex-husband.
"Blue Jasmine" is lovely to look at and hard to forget.
|Another Oscar nomination in Cate's future|