THE BLOG
07/25/2013 04:23 pm ET | Updated Sep 24, 2013

Blue Jasmine Review Plus Cate Blanchett Interview (VIDEO)

New York son Woody Allen's back from Europe and he's unpacking some American baggage; Cate Blanchett talks of liminally channeling Hedda Gabler, Mary Tyrone, and Blanche DuBois.

While no one will likely agree with me on the similarities twixt Blue Jasmine and A Streetcar Named Desire, for me the visiting neurotic clashing with her sister's simple, working-man partner merits some mild comparison, as does the casting of Brando-browed Bobby Carnavale as Chili, as perhaps a kindler, gentler Stanley Kowalski of sorts delivering his own "Stella!" scene, not on a rainy street, but in the produce aisle of a grocery store, and he doesn't overturn a dinner table, but he does rip a phone out of the wall, and later in the film, (again, in a kind of gentler SK mode) he gushes with pride about his self-correction, after refraining from telling his GF's half-crazy sister what he really thinks of her.

In many ways, the domestic setting is really a microcosm of greater forces, namely the financial collapses brought on by speculation from those with the ability to raise capital on paper to make more paper and build empty buildings, and the shockwaves which devastated those who'd worked for their money and decided to gamble with it by investing in same. Bernie Madoff comes to mind, particularly (for this viewer) via a lovely bit of set decoration, a pool that's kinda similar to Bernie Madoff's pool, though of course, Madoff is hardly the only such individual who's dominated world markets from a house of cards.

Measuring Blue Jasmine by what I consider Allen's masterpiece, Crimes & Misdemeanors, it seems Allen is angrier, and I love him most when he is thus -- the screwball comedies and the mirror-on-bourgie-society flicks are great, but I'm the kind of Woody Allen fan who, in addition to appreciating the aforementioned Crimes & Misdemeanors, loves the unimpeachable sentimentalism of the scene in which the performer-dreamers who never give up, gather for Thanksgiving dinner at the end of the great Broadway Danny Rose.

Back to la rabia di Allen, specifically, where Crimes and Misdemeanors depicts the universe of the 'Eighties in which the rich get away with murder (or more precisely, murder for hire) and the principled, failing New York filmmaker (beautifully played by Mr. Allen) loses both the girl and the opportunity for paid work, and a man of faith goes blind, in Blue Jasmine, (SPOILER ALERT) the rich, escutcheoned man hangs himself in prison and his permanently-in-denial wife ends up deranged on a park bench.

Another similarity to Crimes and Misdemeanors is found in the positing of two siblings, one of whom inhabits a world of privilege, the other existing amidst the mucky-muck (specifically a grown hood's life), with the former turning to the latter for a bail-out (the murder of his mistress) when the sihznit hits the fan. In Crimes & Misdemeanors they are brothers, in Blue Jasmine they are - importantly, in this film about identity and security, adopted - sisters: name-changing Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) an electro-shock-therapied Park Avenue mujer al borde de attacke de los nervios numero diez y nueve, and Ginger, the salt-of-the-earth grocery-bagger (played by Sally Hawkins who delivered the deliriously jovial Poppy in Happy-Go-Lucky).

Ginger takes Jasmine in when she goes broke, despite the fact that Jasmine's formularizing, theorizing, Wall Street-lion husband Hal (synonymous perhaps with the rogue, calculating computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey?) squandered the life savings of Gina and her first husband, Augie, (played by Andrew Clay) after Jasmine suggested he help them out by taking their money.

Less tragic than Blanche (who victimized only herself through her delusions), name-changing Jasmine is more dubious than DuBois; hers is a more conscious, opportunistic self-deception. Nonetheless, Jasmine is, perhaps through her state of pathos, and/or because she, like her sister is an adoptee, a pitiable character, a name-changing self-inventor-turned-self-deceiver who gets played by a hollow man in a world as groundless and dangerously superficial as she allowed her existence to become.

A week ago I guessed Blanchett would get an Oscar nomination for her performance, and while she at times plays this Rich American Woman a little over-the-top (though in real-life such individuals -- perhaps like all of us -- are also always playing a role, an approximation or exaggeration of -- what we allow to be -- our societal die-cast) during the scenes in which Jasmine talks to herself in public, has silent, grim realizations about her station in life, or lunches with her befuddled nephews, declaring simply that if you have enough crises, sooner or later you're going to crack-up, explaining to them (after they tell her, with the insouciance of kids, that their mother said she used to be normal) that she's had "Edison's surgery", Blanchett becomes, for a few shining moments, a truly tragic dame of the screen (too often, contemporary female actors come off like bad drag-queen-imitators when they try and play it grand or depict femme fatales - see Gatsby). When Jasmine actually finds the perfect man, we root for her to start a new life, and in another Woody Allen film, done perhaps at another time in his career, she just might have.

Opening with Jasmine showing up on Gina's doorstep, Blue Jasmine answers David Byrne's pre-chorus question in "Once In a Lifetime" via flashbacks, chronicling Jasmine's condescension towards Ginger and Augie; Hal's philandering; Jasmine's slow discovery of same; Augie and Gina's investing their nest egg with Hal; Hal's growing financial woes; Jasmine's scorched-earth revenge for Hal's womanizing.

Also interesting in this syory of deceptive identities and financial, emotional collapse is its depiction of the astonishing willingness of the upwardly-mobile-aspiring -- be they bourgeois, petit-bourgeois or straight broke, to surrender common sense to an elusive payoff from speculation, manifested in-film by Augie's description of how he worked hard to earn the first 'coupla thousand, then won the lottery, both sums of which he subsequently gives to the scheming Hal, who shifts financial burden from cardboard company to cardboard company. The scene in which Augie buys Hal's pitch is shot near the aforementioned swimming pool which is filled to the meniscus of its rail-thin edge and bordered by white fences seeming to cage them in from the vast ocean on the horizon.

Later in the film, we see a similar fence-as-symbolic-border before a body of water, when Jasmine is proposed to by Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard), a former diplomat now contemplating a run for political office, who she meets at a party. They look over the San Francisco bay and again, perhaps in another Woody Allen film in another time, Jasmine just might have made it to the other side. Ginger also meets a man at the party, high-end home-entertainment-system installer Al (Louis CK) who emerges as a fun-loving, easy-going step-up from Chili, and they engage in a serious of trysts. Encouraged by Jasmine, Ginger considers dumping Chili, until she learns that Al's married.

For the highly malleable (perhaps not unlike the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, given that L. Frank Baum's story was really about currency and the manipulation of the different social strata) Ginger, whose life-bets are placed only with her own self at risk (and the thoughts of finding the best possible man to help her raise her children) there is a second chance, and she goes back to Chili, despite acknowledging to Jasmine earlier in the film that she knows her life could be better than it is, conceding how limited her options are, in this worthwhile parable about identity, genuineness, and survival.

Cate Blanchett in 4 minutes, 20 seconds

Cate Blanchett, a supporter of Solar-Aid.org and The Australian Conservation Foundation talks about climate change, her role in Blue Jasmine, accepting challenging roles (she will be playing a lesbian in Todd Haynes's The Price of Salt, working with the great Liv Ullmann on A Streetcar Named Desire, and directing film versus theater.