There’s a reason that the performances in Woody Allen’s latest “Blue Jasmine” were singled out for Oscars, rather than the achievements of the film as a whole. Both Sally Hawkins (supporting actress nominee) and Cate Blanchett (leading actress winner) were gripping in the roles that Woody Allen (best writing nominee) wrote for them. The film, as a whole, however, was somewhat one- dimensional.
That one dimension was certainly well described and portrayed. Blanchett was indeed fantastic as Jasmine, a beautiful, fragile woman whose life has been utterly destroyed. The how and the why of her collapse are the story of the film, told through flashbacks to her life of luxury in Manhattan, and her currently reduced circumstances, crashing — quite literally — with her sister in San Francisco.
Jasmine is fixated on her mistake of dropping out of college to marry her husband, played perfectly by a glib, conniving Alec Baldwin. She grew quite accustomed to their lavish lifestyle and there is much speculation as to how much she enabled the illegal means by which they afforded it. She naturally sees herself as the biggest victim of all of his fraud, but it is another victim, her sister, who is actually a more interesting character.
Hawkins, a British actress, is utterly believable and natural as Ginger. She is Jasmine’s younger sister, who is so accustomed to playing second fiddle to her glamorous sister that she continues to take advice from her, even when it is painfully obvious that Jasmine has absolutely nothing to offer anyone in that department. While Blanchett’s solo scenes of more overt insanity are flashier, I think the scenes between the sisters are more interesting.
One flashback shows Ginger’s ill-fated trip to visit Jasmine in New York, and it is full of telling details. It is on this trip that Jasmine convinces her sister and her husband (portrayed by Andrew Dice Clay) to invest their surprisingly substantial lottery winnings in a business that is ultimately a lie. Of course, they lose it all. Ginger’s flip-flopping between forgiving and blaming her sister in this is compelling.
The wardrobe does an amazing job of aiding the characters in their story. On the trip to New York, we see Jasmine treating her younger sister to a costly Fendi bag, and any time Ginger is trying to dress herself up, out pops the treasured bag. Jasmine’s luxurious Hermes bag, meanwhile, is her last remaining talisman from her former life, and she clings to it like her final vestige of hope, not to mention sanity. When she meets an eligible man who appears to be her ticket back to the good life, he immediately comments upon her fashionable clothing, and it is these valuable signifiers, as well as her natural beauty, that are her only commodity.
This story has been accurately compared to “A Streetcar Named Desire,” with a desirable-but-unreliable older woman living with her down-at-the-heels sister and rough boyfriend, played by the always-excellent Bobby Cannavale. However, for its uncomfortable but accurate portrayal of the limits of options for these women, “Blue Jasmine” came to remind me of Jane Austen.
Of course, in Austen’s time, educational and professional opportunities were entirely different for females, but, despite the different reasons, the choices for Jasmine and Ginger basically amount to the same thing. They must find the best man they can to marry. Their tools to do so are themselves, their physical attributes and their brains and personalities. It is the difference in those essential gifts, which Ginger bemoans as their conflicting “genetics” (both girls were adopted into the same family from different birth parentage), and in their resulting lives, where Allen and his female leads tell a quieter but more complex story.
Brown strikes paydirt again
Mobile-born filmmaker Margaret Brown has once more mined local stories for a documentary film, and the accolades have begun. “The Great Invisible,” about the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oilrig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, was awarded the Grand Jury Prize, the top honors for nonfiction film, at the prestigious South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas just last week.
Filmed over several years around the Gulf Coast, it is an in-depth look at the disaster through interviews with oil executives, survivors and residents, and will now continue to screen at festivals, art house movie theaters, and on PBS.
Brown’s highly acclaimed previous films were “The Order of Myths,” which dug into the open secrets of Mobile’s Mardi Gras, and “Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt.”