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Film Review: A Pampered Life Built on Lies Collapses In 'Blue Jasmine'

Sony Pictures Classics

Cate Blanchett has always delivered the goods, and her virtuosic, shattering performance as the title character in Woody Allen's terrific new film Blue Jasmine continues that streak.

She plays a woman in pursuit of stability after a scandal involving suicide and fraud shakes her to her core, ultimately stripping her of every creature comfort she’s relied upon and posed behind.

As the film opens, Jasmine is in the midst of unraveling a disjointed yet staccato oral biography to a fellow airline passenger, who obviously didn’t ask for the recitation. Once on the ground, she sets out for the cramped San Francisco apartment of her sister, Ginger (a charming Sally Hawkins), believing it to be a safe haven while she recuperates from national shame and nervous exhaustion.

The sisters were both adopted from separate biological parents, perhaps something a cultural anthropologist might say impacted their wildly different adulthoods. Jasmine - born, by the way, as the less impressive Jeanette - has lived an Upper East Side life of privilege, with weekends in the Hamptons, charity balls, and a Chanel wardrobe. (One white Chanel jacket in particular is seen fresh off the hanger in a flashback and worn to a grayish tint in the present.) Ginger, meanwhile, is a checker at a supermarket who struggles to keep her head above water with little support from her ex-husband, Auggie (a surprisingly impressive Andrew Dice Clay).

Whether by luck or pluck, Jasmine has thrived as the trophy wife of her financier husband (Alex Baldwin), perhaps because she’s oblivious to his billion dollar house of cards. Or is she? The same question was often asked of Ruth Madoff, Bernard Madoff’s wife, after he was in prison. Jasmine takes a job as a dental assistant and double dates with Ginger and her new boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale), and finds both excruciatingly tedious.

When she meets a rising politician (Peter Sarsgaard) at a party, she begins to reconstruct her narrative with lies coiled within deeper lies. What Blanchett so brilliantly conveys is not unlike a tightrope walker who feels the rope fraying under her feet yet sets out across it anyway. Allen manages to mine dry humor from Jasmine's tale, subsequently breathing welcome air into this emotionally epic and economically charged story, one that Blanchett traverses with the vast, precise skills of a diamond cutter.


Blue Jasmine| Dir. Woody Allen | 108 minutes | Playing at Fine Arts Theatres

Since 1998, Steve Walker has contributed stories and interviews about theater, visual arts, and music as an arts reporter at KCUR. He's also one of Up to Date's regular trio of critics who discuss the latest in art, independent and documentary films playing on area screens.