"Blue Jasmine" commences with a simple device – Jasmine (Cate Blanchette) is relaying her backstory aloud, seemingly to the woman seated next to her on the airplane – though likelier, just to herself. Jasmine, having recently suffered a breakdown, is prone to bouts of talking to herself. It’s a clever way to serve the character and allow for efficiency of exposition. We get a handle on Jasmine – a one-time anthropology student who chose to get involved with a professor rather than finish her degree – and her situation – financially swindled by her professor-turned-husband – before she reaches her destination.
When Jasmine does finally arrive, with multiple pieces of Louis Vuitton luggage in tow, it’s to the eclectic San Francisco apartment of her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Both adopted, Jasmine and Ginger are presented as a sort of odd couple. If Jasmine’s style is Louis Vuitton, Ginger’s is Gucci knock-off, at best. But Ginger is sweet, and seemingly forgiving, even if her ex-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) is not.
Through flashbacks we learn of the financial, and personal, crimes committed by Jasmine’s husband Hal (Alec Baldwin), including the fraudulent investments he made with Augie and Ginger’s money. And we learn about the Upper East Side lifestyle which Jasmine continually longs for. Stuck in Ginger’s noisy apartment with her two kids and greasy boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale) Jasmine teeters constantly on the brink of another breakdown – until she fibs her way into the life of Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard), a wealthy Marin county widower.
As far as themes go, it doesn’t get much more classic than the longing for class and status – and that’s definitely near the heart of "Blue Jasmine," much as it was in "Match Point." While in that previous film writer/director Woody Allen built a sexy thriller, here his story is a drama. Jasmine may do all the longing she wants, but don’t expect any happy endings.
It might be the final act that really disguises "Blue Jasmine" from being an Allen film. There is an off-handed mention of “chance” by Dwight, but ultimately the characters are all held responsible for their own actions. Serendipity, luck, and other recurring Allen themes are absent here. If it weren’t for the iconic Windsor font at the film’s opening, it might be hard to recognize it as belonging to Woody Allen. Not that that’s a bad thing – there’s a narrative voice here, but it seems to belong more to Blanchette.
Playing the title role, Jasmine is really a tour de force for Blanchette, who captures the ability to remain icy while fighting back hot tears. Clad in chic fitted Chanel dresses, she constantly brings Jasmine to the edge of being too unlikable, and then pulls back, letting charm take over. Does Jasmine have any sincerity to her? Is she simply a lost soul? Is she any better a person than her husband was? Those are all questions we might not necessarily get the answers to. For all of Jasmine’s public monologuing, she might not really know herself at all.