Blue Jasmine is one of Woody Allen’s most effective and memorable films in years, and showcases Cate Blanchett’s most electrifying cinematic performance to date. Instead of a standard plot review, a blow by blow, or examination of interpersonal, character dynamics, this is a comparison to Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire. Allen and Blanchett’s Jasmine bears more than a passing resemblance to Blanche DuBois. And although she’s plagued by a selfish, womanizing Bernie Maddoff like husband in Alec Baldwin, and mental illness to help make her into who she becomes, Jasmine’s real problem is life choices, but above all her lies.
In fact, in the end, it’s really all about her lies.
She lies to her sister, she lies to her son, she lies to her friends, she lies to men she’s dating. She’s one big lie.
Comparisons to Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire are legitimate, however, they fade away ultimately. Blanche DuBois, for all her mistakes and pretense, is in most ways a decent woman. Her lies are more keeping up appearances, and her insults – aimed at her own philandering husband – may have brought some to ruin, but that was about her own pain and responding in kind as defense.
Jasmine is a target of bad luck and makes bad choices, but she’s basically a lying self serving opportunist. Blanche too is also lost in pretense and in illusion, but there’s a childlike, almost fairy tale quality about her. She’s never truly a deceiver who manipulates people for personal gain, or to the destruction of an enemy.
It’s not merely Jasmine’s decisions, it’s her character, or lack thereof – her lying, her screwing over and abusing her sister’s sense of self worth. Yes, obviously Allen channels Streetcar generously, but she’s no real Blanche, she’s a shallow, lying fake – who even her son completely disowns at the end.
Being a liar – she lies easily and to everyone. Most notably, she lies to the Peter Sarsgaard character, who may have not given her the romantic consideration he does if he had known the truth, blasts her, ‘How could you think I wouldn’t have found out your lies?’ Jasmine could have said, ‘Yes I have a son – he’s trying to find himself – we’re estranged. My husband offed himself because of a bad business deal.’ Even that level of qualified honesty may have blunted the Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) confrontation – things may even have been salvageable. But Jasmine’s more than mere fraud. She’s evil artifice, completely fine with screwing people over for her own gain – or at least ‘looking the other way’. She’s more a mobster wife or Gordon Gecko spouse – with the same personal safe guards, pretense at ignorance and other self aggrandizing tricks – not the durably likable, though delusional fantasy prone Blanche.
When Blanche DuBois is carried away by the mental institution and utters her famous line, “I’ve always depended upon the kindness of strangers.”, we know she too will be kind to them – but always ready for a little artful play. Jasmine, if she does make it out of the last scene into a kind of sheltered existence, will be poisonous, because of her expertly cultivated power of deceit, and just in the way she deceived and helped to nearly destroy her sister’s and other’s lives. We know she’ll have no hesitation about doing the same to strangers.
Cate Blanchett infuses Blue Jasmine with humanity, and three dimensional depth, but in the end, we should not feel sorry for the title character – she’s really not worth it. However, the childlike and ever dreaming, though bruised and battered Blanche, is far more sympathetic, and far less destructive in her delusions, than Jasmine is with her well crafted, injurious deception.