There’s kind of an unwritten rule in most of American cinema which is that the protagonist is never far from reaching success, whether that be money, fame or victory over one’s foes. Great American heroes of American film like Luke Skywalker, Rocky Balboa, or even Don Corleone decide what they want, work hard and ultimately achieve it. This is very much in-keeping with the values of American culture, where the American Dream is thought of as more as the American Reality.
Crossover to British film, and directors like Mike Leigh and Ken Loach view things differently. Their films often see ‘the establishment’ or society as getting in the way of an individual’s dreams and causing them to fail. So for a British hero in these films, failure is never far away. (cf. Sweet Sixteen or Vera Drake).
Blue Jasmine is unusual in that it is an American film that takes the worldview of Leigh and Loach rather than the more well-worn path of much of American cinema. This is Requiem for a Dream taken down a notch or two, a folk song for a dream, perhaps.
It concerns the fall from grace of Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) after separating from her rich husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin). When we meet her she has just moved from New York to San Francisco to live with her working class sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Left with nothing, Jasmine is close to falling apart, but is still determined to land back on her feet. She gets a job as a receptionist at a dentist’s, and starts getting the qualifications she needs to be an interior designer. However, it is obvious the break-up from her husband has left her with wounds that are not easily healed.
We learn about the reasons behind their separation through flashbacks. As Jasmine comes in and out of these difficult memories she mutters to herself, leaving those around her to question her mental state.
In many ways Blue Jasmine is a parable of the post-2008 age. Jasmine represents someone who had big ambitions and was used to an extravagant standard of living few can ever dream of. Having lost it, she finds it very difficult to let go. In that sense she has a lot in common with the protagonist of the documentary The Queen of Versailles. A similar real-life tale of a family who seems to have it all and then must cope with potential bankruptcy.
Another good point-of-reference is Happy-Go-Lucky, which Hawkins also stars in. This film also sees Hawkins as the happier of two sisters despite being less ‘successful’ as society might see it. Taken together, Blue Jasmine and Happy-Go-Lucky seem to point to the importance of contentment, rather than success in living a life you can be satisfied with.
It is not so much “If you work hard enough good things will happen in the future” but rather “Good things are already happening, make sure you appreciate them now.”
Blue Jasmine then can be seen as a warning in this post-recession age. We can never ‘have it all’, and so it’s much more important we learn to accept that a life not as extravagant as we might have hoped needn’t be such a bad thing after all.