07/30/2013 11:02 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Blue Jasmine


Extreme aspiration, in its most cosmopolitan and materialistic form, is the substance of Blue Jasmine. Self-invention is what makes the wheels of commerce run and yet it's the dark side of the American dream. In Blue Jasmine Woody Allen has entered a new phase of his career in which he becomes an American Zola, also calling up the spirit of Wharton's The House of Mirth, a novel that deals with an abject woman who had a taste of something better. In its tale of financial malfeasance, Blue Jasmine also partakes of some headline grabbing that hearkens back to Dreiser's An American Tragedy, which was based on a news story. Allen looks with an almost surgical eye at the ugliest side of the urge to rise which is painted as a highly contagious virus crossing class lines. Social elevation and sexual desire work in tandem as symptoms of the soul sickness Allen describes. Ginger (Sally Hawkins) and Jasmine (Cate Blanchette) are two adopted sisters who don't share the same genes. Jasmine, tall and blond, has the kind of aristocratic demeanor and poise that enable her to engineer her ill-fated marriage to a corrupt financier, but Ginger is no less immune, in her desire to strive for something better. "You can tell a lot about people when you look in their mouths," a dentist named Dr. Flicker (Michael Stuhlbarg) says at one point. The comment is a parody of the notion of insight, in a film where appearance plays such a huge role in the way judgments of character are made. But the key to the movie may lie in Jasmine's depiction of her husband Hal's (Alec Baldwin's) suicide. "It wasn't strangulation," she says of his hanging himself in his cell. "Your neck snaps." What she's describing is not a slow suffocating death, but something more violent. In Blue Jasmine. the world of illusion pops like a pin pricking a balloon. Andrew Dice Clay, who plays Ginger's first husband Augie, steals the show from the slick Alec Baldwin and it's a form of poetic justice. The lack of social graces of both the actor and the character he plays receive their just reward in the topsy-turvy universe of Allen's tale of downward mobility.

{This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture,}