The Woody Allen drama Blue Jasmine wants to be something special, but we know better.
Director Woody Allen is persona non grata in our home, having stolen the 1978 Oscar for Annie Hall from Star Wars: Episode IV. That was a dark day in movie history, even though we can thank Allen for introducing us to the modern comedy. But that was four decades and an odd marriage ago, and Allen seems more like someone who would rather surround his movies with a vast array of stars rather than just tell good stories. Blue Jasmine not only proves this status quo but that his seventy-something mentality went out of style years ago.
The former socialite-turned-basketcase Jasmine (Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth) is in serious trouble. Fresh off an FBI investigation over her philandering big-business husband Hal (Alec Baldwin, The Hunt for Red October), Jasmine has relocated to San Francisco, where her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins, Layer Cake) is forced to take her in. The two couldn't be more different: Jasmine struts in fine New York clothing and Hermes' handbags, while Sally lives in a small apartment and dates loser guys like the emotional Chili (Bobby Cannavale, Parker). We learn through flashbacks that Hal was arrested and later committed suicide in jail, leaving Jasmine a blithering mess who's destined to roam the streets talking to herself. Coping with a cocktail of Xanax and vodka, she decides the only way to get back her old life is to learn computers so she can take an online interior decorating class. But you can't take the rich out of her, and the transition is too much for her. Jasmine's last chance at grasping the remains of her old life is presented by the wealthy and politically connected Dwight (Peter Skarsgaard, Jarhead), who has no idea of her checkered past. Stuck in a dead-end job as a dentist receptionist and forced to deal with Ginger's working-man mentality, Jasmine slowly descends into a pit from which she'll never escape.
This isn't the first time Allen has made stories about people trying to be something they're not, but Jasmine is filled with too many errors in the storytelling for Blanchett to convince us that they're stories worth telling. She turns in a terrific performance nonetheless, straddling the line between laughable, pitiful, and certifiable. Her slow descent into madness is both hilarious and poignant, but it's ultimately for not. Allen is so stuck on observing people in what he perceives are their natural habitat that he misses the basic human traits that he's trying to portray. You don't witness a violent break up between Chili and Ginger, only to find the couple later loving each other again as if nothing happened. Is Jasmine so disconnected from society that she can use an iPhone but not a computer? Allen doesn't help the audience through this twisted logic, settling instead on a personal message about his own life. With too many stories to tell, Blue Jasmine degrades into an exercise of self-pity, content to toss melodramatic crap on the wall to see if it sticks. And don't get me started here on the racial and sexual bleaching of Allen's San Francisco. If the intention was to make a nonsensical movie filled with people whom Allen believes to reside there, then mark the box as mission completed.
More celebrated critics would like us to think Blue Jasmine is an early Oscar contender, but we know better - its moderately-engaging tone only makes us just wish someone would get Jasmine the help she needs. And while the ending is not what I would have envisioned or expected, it doesn't do enough along the way to make us care enough when it's revealed. Don't believe the hype. Blue Jasmine is rated PG-13 and has a runtime of 98 minutes.
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