We lie to ourselves all the time. It's second nature. Our relationships, careers and past experiences sometimes need a special dose of self-doctoring to make tolerable, even recognizable. Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), the tormented heroine and hurricane force at the center of Woody Allen's superb Blue Jasmine, is experiencing a surge in personal deception. It's gotten so bad that she can hardly distinguish reality from memory.
Cuckolded by her investment-banker husband Hal (Alec Baldwin), a Bernie Madoff-like Wall Street huckster who swindled countless people out of their life savings, Jasmine is exiled to San Francisco where her shaggy sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) offers sanctuary. Jasmine sees it as a step down, even though she has no money, family or home. Blue-collar life doesn't suit her, even when the only other option is destitution.
Jasmine's internal tumult manifests in harrowing ways. While waiting for her baggage to arrive at the airport terminal, she unloads some of her own on a fellow traveler without even realizing the woman isn't really listening. It's the first of many one-sided exchanges in which Jasmine gets caught up in the ripples of her own trauma, expressing all she can to strangers who can't wait to slip away.
If Blue Jasmine—which opens Friday, Aug. 2, at Hillcrest Cinemas—were simply a study of an entitled socialite getting her comeuppance, it would be quite a dull bird. The film's real genius stems from its ability to survey different stages in Jasmine's descent toward madness, from denial to acceptance to isolation and back again. Her attempt to "learn the computer" in a night class and work as a receptionist in a dentist's office are pivotal moments because they complicate Jasmine's boozed-out bitchy façade. She's trying to move on, despite her various flaws.
So why can't she? Aside from the fact that Jasmine is self-serving, egotistical and delusional, the men in her life keep pushing her into a corner, quite literally in some sequences. The transition from reluctant flirting to physical confrontation between Jasmine and her dentist employer (Michael Shulberg) is just one of the many telling examples. Setbacks like these stunt Jasmine's progress, watering her organic self-loathing and emboldening her desperation. Essentially, such experiences give Jasmine an excuse to keep living the lie.
However, this isn't just Jasmine's melodrama. Allen's deceptively intricate script views the betrayals made by Ginger as a mirror to her sister's emotional carnage and its own potential tragedy. We see the effects of Jasmine's cancerous influence in Ginger's failures with her boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale), the negative transference seamless in its destruction.
A sun-kissed visual glow glosses every frame, yet Blue Jasmine is Allen's most emotionally sorrowful film since Husbands and Wives. The film splinters off to include other thematically linked storylines, including a staggering bit involving Ginger's ex-husband played to perfection by Andrew Dice Clay. Here, it becomes clear that Jasmine is just the face of a world full of characters retreating into elaborate charades of trust until the bottom finally falls out, and they're left to consider exactly when and where things went wrong.
This proves Blue Jasmine to be a masterful exploration of personal denial, where mirrors of perspective reflect on each other to explore why mistakes repeat and heartaches continue. The narrative ultimately belongs to Jasmine in this regard, tilting between past and present to view not only the life of a fallen 1-percenter but also, and more importantly, the downfall of a woman who has long confused her deep vanity for social dynamism.
"I used to know the words. Now it's all a jumble," Jasmine says of her current state in life. She may as well be reciting her own epitaph.