We love watching rich people be rich and happy, but maybe we love it more when the cash stops flowing. There’s a Japanese phrase for that, and roughly translated, it goes like this: “The unhappiness of others tastes of honey.” In that vein, Woody Allen’s newest work, “Blue Jasmine” — a film that stirred up a hornet’s nest of past scandal and present indictment by his daughter, Dylan Farrow, when it opened in the U.S. last year — is dripping with honey. Unhappiness is the name of the game here, along with deceit, self-delusion and money problems — huge money problems. Ah, the taste of honey.
“Blue Jasmine” is Allen’s most brilliant work in years, not least because he’s uninterested in charming the audience with love stories and relationship jitters. “Blue Jasmine” belongs to the titular character, Jasmine (played by a scintillating Cate Blanchett, who bagged an Oscar for her performance), who is defined by money (or lack of it), and Allen seems totally mesmerized by his own creation.
Jasmine is deeply troubled, but atypical of an Allen heroine, she refuses to admit how low she has sunk. Her way is to guzzle Stoli vodka, pop Xanax and just ignore the pain and anxiety eating away at her.
Only a short while back, Jasmine (who changed her name from Janet) was a genuine New York socialite wading in cash. Parties, shopping and hobnobbing had made up her days, financed by husband Hal (Alec Baldwin), a real estate developer of some kind who gets arrested for fraud, leaving her broke and saddled with debt. So what’s a former rich gal to do but hop on a plane to San Francisco — first class — and move in with her working-class sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins)?
Once in Ginger’s cramped apartment, Jasmine talks non-stop about the glittering life she has left behind, much to the disgust of Ginger’s ex-husband, Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), and current boyfriend Chili (a hilarious Bobby Cannavale). But she gets one more shot at the luxurious life, via a new relationship with rich guy Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard). The snag is that she has fed him so many lies about herself that it’s hard to come clean. The other snag is that Dwight could be faking it, too. It’s symbolic that when they kiss they’re both wearing dark glasses.
Allen’s observations of a woman who deceives herself, and everyone else, to combat the changes in her life is, perhaps, a jab at Mia Farrow, whom he described as a “self-serving liar” in an open letter released online last year. Interestingly, Jasmine evokes Allen’s “Alice” from 1990, also the story of a wealthy socialite — played by Farrow -struggling to find herself (in this, Alec Baldwin played her low-income ex-boyfriend). The sweet redemption that had defined “Alice” is absent in “Jasmine” — she doesn’t want guidance or sympathy, but instead a return ticket to the way things were. But as Allen’s films have shown us, time and again, no woman can go back there. And it’s probably best that way.