This …is the horror movie of the summer.
Cate Blanchett plays Jasmine, a widow whose husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), was a white collar conman most critics and audience members erringly, IMHO, posit to be based on Bernie Madoff. Not only is Madoff disturbingly not the only member of the Elite Assholes Club (Jon Corzine, anyone?), he is too meek and indifferent to the consequences of his acts (which include his son’s suicide) to have the courage to unburden himself of his mortal coil.
Hal relieved, or disabled, depending on your point of view, Jasmine from her inapposite world of academia before she graduated, conferring on her the degree of MRS., summa cum laude, since life in high society New York is the aspiration and achievement of many who have the same Latin coda to their degrees without having taken the marital shortcut.
Sadly, this privileged life is now a past-life, as distant as a life from a previous reincarnation- in the New Age woo-woo sense. It is, appropriately, recounted in flashback, an unregenerate contrast to her current saturnine reality.
Jasmine, lost without her husband and the privileged life in which he ensconced her, in desperation seeks solace and shelter with her estranged, decidedly less genteel sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins, astonishingly British in real life).
Jasmine’s instinctive and unconscious revulsion to her new, plebeian environment, along with a wardrobe that consists almost entirely of Hermes and Chanel, don’t endear her to the new characters in her life: Ginger’s boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale) and his sidekick Eddie (Max Casella), people whom she discreetly concedes she will need as allies.
This observation seems to have eluded most reviewers whose commentaries I’ve read. Critics seem to be falling all over themselves to compare Jasmine to Blanche DuBois, the pathetic, tragic female lead character from Tennessee Williams’ 1947 Pulitzer-Prize winning play A Streetcar Named Desire.
I understand why they’re evoking this classic character; I just don’t agree with the comparison, and I find it discourteous to Woody Allen to reduce Jasmine to the hysterical, over-the top, tragic mess of a character that actresses have been clamoring to play for over sixty years- mostly because there is a plethora of dialogue and stage time that allow them to show off a range of emotions, an opportunity that tends to only present itself in acting school.
I find it curious that none of the reviews I’ve read explain why they make this faulty, IMHO, comparison. I’m not going to mount an overwrought, Blanche DuBois-style defense because, IMHO, I can’t imagine anyone would want to read it.
Can you tell I’m not big on Tennessee Williams? Unlike BdB, Jasmine is not an attention-whore, she doesn’t try to manipulate men with sex, and she actually makes an effort to improve her most unfortunate lot in life.
After suffering through a police-level interrogation from Chili and Johnny, which forces her to confront the terrifying prospect of taking care of herself, she enrolls in computer classes. She follows up on their job lead working for a dentist where she must wear scrubs -surely a painful, daily reminder of how far down the social ladder she’s fallen. When the job unexpectedly ends, it’s not because of her unwillingness to do work she may consider beneath her, it’s not because of her at all.
I believe Jasmine is a victim.
I don’t think she had a clue that her husband was a crook. I think she honestly thought she was helping her sister, and that if she had known the extent of the consequences that Hal’s “help” would ultimately cause, she would never have involved them.
The only malfeasance of which I think she was aware was of Hal’s philandering. While it’s certainly not a virtue to put up with humiliation in exchange for a comfortable life, she was willing to endure the pain, a pain that she bore alone (his dalliances did not appear to be with women who had families who would have been destroyed).
Through no fault of her own, Jasmine must adapt to a foreign land (I understand it’s still America, but it’s foreign to her). She lacks the social skills to function outside of her small, privileged world -the movie opens with her on a plane blabbering as the seatmate from hell.
Her late husband’s deceit has robbed her of everything: her comfortable, familiar way of life, her friends, and their respect and kindness, friends who cannot be reclaimed as they have no reason to believe she was not complicit, let alone aware of his crimes, and the college degree he convinced her she would never need is now a public mark that she is functionally handicapped. Her life has been undone is every possible way, at a staggering velocity.
During a brief foray into the world she knows, at a party in affluent Marin County, she meets diplomat-on-hiatus Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard). An opportunity to use her interior decorating skills augments her self-esteem which ascend even further when their compatibility reveals its romantic potential.
When the 24k golden ring of the life she knew and which validated her appears within her reach, Jasmine thinks she has learned her lesson from the carnage she sustained from Hal and behaves deceitfully to protect it. She doesn’t realize, that in truth, she learned how to function from Hal; she’s too attached to the future to which she has attached herself entirely, which promises to restore her purpose for being to realize her good intentions are only good for her. In a sense, Hal’s victimization of Jasmine promises never to end.
If Jasmine never learns she’s never learning, what hope is there for her?
P.S. Andrew Dice Clay is really good; I hope he will be in more movies. Louis CK, not so much.
P.P.S. I think setting the movie in San Francisco, rather than the exotic, highbrow European locations of his recent movies allow for the kind of well-defined, compelling characters that populate this movie, rather than the rich, entitled, insufferable Americans abroad.
I think Woody Allen’s absence onscreen helps to make this movie great; the temptation for unnecessary screwball comedy is absent. No offense intended, Mr. Allen.