If Woody Allen wasn’t behind Blue Jasmine, would it have ever been made? Had I been handed the script cold, I would have assumed its author was a precocious teenage shut-in who spent his days reading headlines and nights watching TCM while his axe to grind with “phonies” was taking swings at his brain. It’s not just that the rich talk like they’re out of The Bonfire of the Vanities (which could be plausible; they’re pretty out of it, too), but the poor are out of … who knows? The Postman Always Rings Twice? Actually—to slip into lingo that Allen might be hip to—it’s kind of a gas trying to locate the “period” of this dramedy’s present-day, at least if one is perverse like me. There’s a novelty aspect to it: Anybody else’s screenplay would have been workshopped before money was forked over, stars were signed on, and “Action!” was called. It’s like a sight reading in full makeup and costume.
For anyone with a sense of justice, there’s a primordial appeal to this story: the comeuppance of The Wife of Wall Street, specifically the spouse of a Bernie Madoff figure. After a nervous breakdown, and the dissolution of life on the mountaintop, Jasmine’s buried alive by debt: so low that she has to shack up with her sister, who gets by as a grocery clerk in that Mecca of the poor and dispossessed, San Francisco. Notice that, after a mere sentence of plot description, this movie already seems tone-deaf to 2013? Ginger, Jasmine’s peasant-like sister, mentions that her boys have “What’s it called? A.D.D.?,” and boasts that her boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale) “has the hots” for her. In Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, the absence of plausible details about modern-day life could be excused because he had an allegorical vision, just as Allen’s hermetism could be forgiven in the fantasy context of Midnight in Paris and the rarefied air of Vicky Cristina Barcelona. But not in Blue Jasmine. Despite his pretensions to realism, he fails to present characters whose motives would be believable in any period—Ginger’s dalliances with Louis C.K., absurd assignations that are brushed aside by her old boyfriend, are Allen’s most heinous lapses—and this failure is coupled with the moldiest, most convenient, “coincidental” dramaturgy. Alec Baldwin, seen in flashbacks as the Ponzi-scheming husband, walks out of his marriage as if he were late for a hair cut; and the big reveal, in which Jasmine’s rosebud is whipped out, betrays that Allen’s as knowledgeable of the law as he is of human life.
And on to apostasy. Cate Blanchett, favored for Best Actress as this Fake Housewife of Fifth Avenue, is somewhat inconsistent. She’s crafty when she’s full-blown Blanchett Dubois, but suffers from having nobody to play against since the other performances (and sometimes hers) seem to have all been recorded in one lazy take. However, at her hair-trigger best—when she babysits her nephews or has her final blowup with Ginger—Blanchett invoked, to my everlasting gratitude, Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest. When she calls her nephews “boys,” in my mind she is saying “fellas,” as in “Don’t fuck with me, fellas!” Like Joan Crawford, Jasmine’s “true self” has collapsed under the weight of antiquated blue-blood affectations. (Blanchett deserves a nod for Best Drag Performance of the year; Jared Leto beware.) But the real loser of the Blue Jasmine blame game is Allen, in a way that’s rather poignant.