Blue Jasmine, a movie to see, shows Woody Allen in despair of the times.
The storyline: A metaphorical cousin of Hannah and her sisters and many of the rest of Allen’s adored women in his happier movies, here named Jeanette “Jasmine” Francis/French, has found herself in a glaring, cruel, frightening world, a fatal desert to be found wandering in as an Expelled Angel, Paradise Lost being Upper East Side New York, the Hamptons, Italy, sailing the Atlantic, shopping sprees and exquisite tiny dietary lunches on Park Avenue, all still with a music score from the Great American Song Book, with the Expulsion ensuing from the Fall of the House of Madoff, Madoff here via a fictitious stand-in con artist of the Financial Sector named Hal Francis (Alec Baldwin), husband of Jasmine (who turned him in to the FBI in anger not over his financial wrongdoing but his marital infidelities) and now, convicted of defrauding investors, a suicide in his prison cell and a signature character of the Great Recession, with the Land of Exile of Banished Angel Jasmine none other than San Francisco (!) with none of its aura, beauty and promise allowed on camera, only a most deliberately contrived representation of it as a strange, shabby, desperate place (an almost mindless choice–why not Phoenix or San Diego?–by the angry, disgusted, despondent and [one must say] finally provincial Allen, New Yorker par excellence). Jasmine, who has lost everything from her former life of the Rich and Famous, the luxurious daydream life of the One Percent, after someone like Irving Picard has seized all she came into from Hal’s mendacious mortgage scams to make Hal’s gullible investors Whole Again, comes broke and homeless as well as clinically depressed and prescription-drug ridden from Manhattan to “San Francisco” following a breakdown, AKA the Expulsion Blues, to live with her half sister, a charter member of the enlarging and sinking Post Recession population still barely above the poverty line and, in this storyline owing much to A Streetcar Named Desire, with a classless boyfriend who strikes as a sort of New Wave descendant of Tennessee Williams’s Stanley Kowalski to Jasmine’s Blanche, the reality-versus-fantasy theme.
The world into which Jasmine has fallen horrifies Allen: he has no visible sympathy for, and an obvious revulsion toward, everyone–Everyone–Jasmine encounters in the Struggling World below the Life of the One Percent. People desperately trying to make ends meet seem of little abiding concern to Allen. Nor does he like California types such as young, elite, rich politicians reform-minded a la Gavin Newsome. But there is a distinction here. Allen, if he can be called snobbish, is so from his place in his Upper East Side Heaven. For obviously Allen is disgusted by the unregulated greed in the Financial Sector in the drama of the Great Recession–his disillusionment from it is something like the disillusionment from World War One, The Great War. The Great Recession has ruined everything for Allen from New York to the Provinces. Apropos: Jasmine and Hal fell in love years before as the Rogers and Hart inspiration, “Blue Moon,” was playing in the background, a tried-and-true Allen scenario, and now a scenario of a Lost World of long-gone good times. Appropriately for Blue Jasmine, Allen’s score is largely comprised of blaring and earthy (and far from Romantic) early recordings of King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Sydney Bechet and other jazz pioneers.
What has been the cultural consequence of the Great Recession? The shattering of Allen’s idiosyncratic ideal world, a world after all of some standing in the collective imagination, is worth seeing, whether in Blue Jasmine Allen is praiseworthy or not.
And beyond question, Cate Blanchett is superb as Jasmine. For her performance alone, Blue Jasmine shouldn’t be missed.