I think Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine is his best film since 1995’s Mighty Aphrodite, making it his best in the last twenty years or so. He’s made quite a few very good films since then, and with Blue Jasmine Allen isn’t attempting anything that he didn’t also attempt in Match Point and similar films. This film is not by any means a departure for Allen. It’s his latest attempt at tragedy. What makes it stand out is that he hit his target perfectly this time. His other films aren’t bad, but compared to this one, they’re very near misses at best.
Blue Jasmine is a fairly transparent reinvention of A Streetcar Named Desire. However, Blanche Dubois’s equivalent is not the offspring of a fallen southern estate, but the wife of a failed Wall Street tycoon and criminal. Blanchett — who deserved an Oscar for her performance, and who won it — said that she studied the Bernie Madoff scandal for this role. The film narrates this couple’s descent into bankruptcy as backstory while we watch the lead character, Jasmine, attempt to rebuild her life from the ground up after moving back in with her working-class sister. It presents Jasmine’s life as a small, very destructive bomb that has, within a limited radius, destroyed or nearly destroyed everything around it.
The parallels that Allen establishes are tantalizing: Wall Street has become the moral and economic equivalent of the antebellum South, and this couple’s life an allegory for the US financial sector. Who are the slaves in this system? The working class, represented by Jasmine’s sister and ex-husband, who lost everything because of her brother in law’s criminality and because of Jasmine’s own narcissistic, yet at the same time entirely justified, revenge.
And yes, on the surface, Jasmine is the stereotypical narcissistic social x-ray, selfish sense of entitlement and all. But Allen’s writing and directing, and Blanchett’s performance, elevates this otherwise stereotypical character to a complex human being with whom viewers can sympathize, even as she gets exactly what she deserves and what she has, quite literally, brought upon herself. Even the attributes that seem superficially annoying in these characters — such as their sense of style, their “standards,” and even their expectations — by taking on human characteristics take on a certain substance, and at times even become admirable. The film puts a human face on a narcissistic system, and in doing so perhaps provides the best hints of a way forward. This film is worth attention, and worth analysis. Above all, it’s worth watching.