Cate Blanchett gives a deep performance of a woman who has gone from moving in the highest circles of money to working as a receptionist in a dental office. She perfects the role of a woman coming out of and continually on the edge of another mental breakdown. It is little wonder why she won an Oscar for best actress in 2014.
The movie weaves flashbacks into the narrative, but not obstructively so. We see bits from Jasmine’s previous life of money, polo excursions, and parties in NYC. These snippets take place in various locales and in the numerous homes that she graced thanks to the financial machinations of her husband.
But she is no longer in that milieu. She has flown across the country to live with her sister, the sister that we hear and see she snubbed for countless years past. A sister who moved in a different economic and social class than she did. But now she seeks her sister’s good graces and charity, even as her sister’s ex-husband and current boyfriend revile her for all she has done.
She plays the innocent throughout the movie, but slowly we learn how much she knew and how she contributed to her own downfall. Through a feeble attempt to get back at her husband, played by Alec Baldwin, who is leaving her for another woman, she ends up doing serious harm to herself and her stepson. After all of the women that he slept with—and the list is long—he has finally fallen in love with one of these other women.
But Jasmine’s life is built on Hal’s. She dropped out of university to marry him. In fact, even her name is because of him. (She changed her name after they met.) The issue isn’t money. As he said, he will provide for her. But identity. Who is she if she is not the wife of a powerful and wealthy man?
We almost see her with another such man, a man clearly with some wealth. (He works for the State Department but recently bought a huge house on the San Francisco Bay.) And aspirations. (He plans on entering politics in California.) But she gets caught in lies about her past. And the impending marriage flames out beautifully.
I have one beef with the movie. Woody Allen, who directed the movie, is a New Yorker. An east coaster. Much of the movie takes place in San Francisco, where Jasmine’s sister lives. But the people that populate the scenes in San Francisco have the hard edge of those from the Big Apple rather than the laid back nonchalance of those from the city by the Bay. I found this created a dissonance for me. It was as if Woody Allen was trying to plant a mini New York City in San Francisco.
The movie ends on a low note. There are no saviors. No white knights. Her sister, after a brief fling with a man who it turns out was married, ends up back with her violent and possessive boyfriend. Jasmine ends up alone, talking to herself in public, reminiscent of the mental breakdowns she has had since her husband’s arrest and then suicide. Life is not looking up for Jasmine. Despite her desperate attempt to get on with her life—an attempt that ended in failure—she is on a downward trajectory that can only end in tragedy. As she mentioned to her nephews, “There’s only so many traumas a person can withstand ’til they take to the street and start screaming.”