Friday night we went to see Woody Allen’s new film Blue Jasmine at Cinema Salem. I wouldn’t say it was a film I enjoyed so much that I’d want to see it again, but I found Cate Blanchett’s performance powerful and intriguing.
Jasmine, as she's renamed herself from Jeanette, is a woman built from a life of leisure and financial ease. She dropped out of college before graduating to marry the dashing and wealthy Hal, played by Alec Baldwin. And for the last 25 years she’s hosted charity benefits, shopped the finest of Park Avenue's wares, and raised a son to attend Harvard.
However, all is not well with Jasmine and as the film continues we find that the false sense of security she has relied on has just come crashing down. The money is gone, invested in phony properties and schemes by Hal. Not to mention the discovery of Hal's numerous affairs. Jasmine moves across country, from New York City to San Francisco, to live with her sister Ginger, until she gets back on her feet.
For most women this would be devastating, but for Jasmine, the thought of starting over and trying to make her own way in the world is nearly unbearable. She is beyond fragile. The daily stresses of living have been shielded from her for so long that she is overcome with panic attacks, sweats and is forced to imbibe a steady stream of vodka martinis with a twist of lemon to make it through normal social interactions.
I think one of the more interesting ways to watch Blue Jasmine would be from a perspective of hair and makeup. You can chart Jasmine’s journey by observing her physical appearance. In the beginning of the film and throughout flashbacks to her old life, her golden hair is coiffed, make up applied, and her face is a matte mask of porcelain beauty.
Blanchett is most striking in a flashback where she and a friend have just come back from a ride. Jasmine strides onto an airy veranda, brown jodhpurs fitting perfectly, her hair pulled back in a low ponytail with just the right amount of volume at the crown of her head, and a slight healthy flush on her cheeks to indicate physical exertion. She may as well have just shot a ten-point buck. She’s glorious, resplendent in her complete appearance of self-mastery and poise.
Compare that to her present day realities in San Francisco. Jasmine frequently appears sweaty, her dark roots showing, black eyeliner and mascara running from her ice blue eyes. She pulls it together for a little while, as she takes a job as a receptionist and starts to date a promising potential foreign diplomat, Dwight.
But, history has a way of repeating itself for Jasmine, and the same denial that brought her marriage to a disastrous end brings her potential with Dwight to a close as well.
There are comic moments in Blue Jasmine, it’s not all tragedy. And the role in the hands of a lesser actress would have been irritating.
Yet, somehow Blanchett brings you to sympathy. It’s at her most vulnerable, hair tangled and ratty, face bare; no trace of make up to be seen, that we finally see her as she is. No masks. Naked.
The smile she gives us is her only genuine one in the whole film. And although she’s at her lowest point, she’s never been more beautiful.
We're not sure what will happen to Jasmine at the end of the film. Will she finally start living as a whole, real person, admitting of her faults as well as her accomplishments? Or, will she descend deeper into mental illness, succumbing to her foreshadowed archetype Blanche Dubois from A Streetcar Named Desire?
That choice is before her. She had started down the road of self-reliance earlier in the film, but meeting Dwight sucked her into her former securities of perfectionism and relying on a man to solve her problems. We hope that Jasmine finds the inner strength to move forward with honesty, just as we all do when life turns out different from what we planned. It's a step up, a step forward, and a step toward becoming fully human.