Woody Allen has never been one to sugar coat humanity. As the auteur has grown older, he's found it even less essential to put a positive spin on things. Though told through a comedic lens--as other hard to swallow realities Allen has shown us over the years--Blue Jasmine is a story about starting over and finding it impossible to do so. Cate Blanchett delivers a performance that shows off how much character research she put in before tackling the role. In addition to a lot of "people watching," Blanchett also studied the Bernie Madoff scandal for further inspiration. The result is a controlled (almost sociopathically so) depiction of a woman unraveling rapidly at the seams.
After Jasmine's husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), is indicted for financial fraud, Jasmine finds herself forced to move away from her comfortable Park Avenue life and into the somewhat welcoming arms of her fellow adopted sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Immediately taken aback by the modest surroundings of Ginger's neighborhood and apartment, Jasmine's attachment to a certain way of living is apparent. Still, in spite of claiming total bankruptcy, Ginger inquires as to how she managed to fly first class. Jasmine replies, "I don't know. I just did." It is one of many aphorisms that defines Jasmine's sense of identity and general lostness. Her sense of denial and being out of touch with reality is palpable with the mere stoicism and frigidity of her facial expressions (another acting coup for Blanchett). As Ginger's new boyfriend/fiancé, Chili (Bobby Cannavale), points out, "Where was she when she had all that money?" The point being, it's easy to suddenly remember you have family when you need them, which is one of the prevalent themes of Blue Jasmine.
The selfishness and egoist nature of Jasmine is best elucidated the second she steps off the plane with an elderly woman who had been sitting next to her in first class. As they descend the escalator and walk to baggage claim, Jasmine continues rambling about all the places she used to go with Hal. When the elderly woman finally makes a beeline for her husband, she tells him, "She just kept babbling about her life." And so, it seems, Jasmine must talk about how her life used to be in order to deal with the fact that it's no longer that way anymore. As Jasmine settles into San Franciscan life--deluding herself that it's "Mediterranean"--Ginger feels comfortable enough to introduce her to Chili, who takes an immediate disliking toward her. In spite of her fragile state, Chili has no qualms about probing Jasmine regarding her next course of action. Claiming an interest in wanting to return to school and finish her degree (she dropped out before completing her major in Anthropology at Boston University), Jasmine assures him that she won't be staying with Ginger for very long.
Ginger must pleasantly remind Jasmine that going to school costs money, and that she should consider taking a job at a dentist's office that one of Chili's friends had mentioned is available. Disgusted by the prospect of "medial work," Jasmine takes the position with reluctance so that she can pay for the computer courses she needs to take in order to go to school online for an interior decorating certificate. Pursued by the dentist, Jasmine's time there is short-lived after he tries to sexually harass her. Desperate to get back to the way things were, Jasmine asks one of the women in her computer class to take her somewhere where she can meet men. This results in an invitation to an elegant party with a view of the San Francisco Bay. Jasmine drags Ginger along with her, who ends up hitting it off instantly with a sound engineer named Al (Louis C.K., in a somewhat uncharacteristic role). In the meantime, Jasmine happens upon a handsome stranger in the library. She quickly learns that Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard) is exactly the type of man she's been looking for: Rich, influential and politically inclined. Their whirlwind romance begins almost right away when he invites her to decorate a house he's just bought (as part of her pathological lying, she failed to mention that she isn't actually an interior decorator).
Jasmine's excitement over Dwight's offer to get married and live with him in Vienna for a few years before he returns to California to run for office prompts her to ramble on about it to Ginger's children, two rambunctious boys who bluntly inquire as to whether or not she's had a nervous breakdown. Jasmine admits that she was found on the street in New York talking to herself, her reasoning being, "There's only so many traumas a person can take before they take to the street screaming." The increase in her disregard for people's reactions when she does talk to herself escalates throughout the film, culminating in one of the realest, most troubling scenes in Allen's canon of work, in which she sits down on a park bench, scares away the woman sitting next to her and starts ranting about the song "Blue Moon," which was playing when she and Hal first met on Martha's Vineyard. Her final line is: "I used to know the words." A metaphor for the sentiment of "I used to know how to function and I used to know what the fuck I was doing with my life," Allen's choice to conclude with this tragic, open-ended scene is indicative of growing more emboldened in the third act of his career. Once can only hope this level of daring will persist with his next release, while still striking the the perfect chord of tragicomedy.