, Newburyport, MA


January 16, 2014

Red, White and Blue Jasmine


That’s a phrase we hear several times in the film, sometimes as laugh-out-loud funny as when the dentist hits on her by asking, “Have you ever tried nitrous oxide?” But more often as an expression of despair, not just hers but that of the victims of what she looked away from.

Augie, played by Clay, is foremost among them, representing countless victims of Wall Street since the 2007-08 meltdown, a character who shows — more pointedly than either Michael Moore or Elizabeth Warren can ever hope — the consequences of looking the other way when gambling passes as “trading.”

If we had to pick a line or phrase to describe the reason for America’s current economic condition, I doubt we could do better than “looking the other way.”

Call it a rejection of the all-too-participatory ’60s, looking the other way became a way of life in the you-can-have-it-all, morning-in-America ’80s and has been well documented in cinema, starting with the young Catholic priest in “True Confessions” (1981) played by Robert De Niro, who complains to the archbishop:

“Looking the other way is getting to be a full-time job.”

And now a lead role in which Cate Blanchett is “riveting,” “exhilarating” and “spot-on perfect,” just as the reviewers say. But it was far more than that.

Critics miss the point because they long ago consigned Allen to a cubbyhole of comedy that has no room for serious intent. That’s why they fault him for his frequent allusions to art and literature, especially when he indulges them, as in “Midnight in Paris” (2012).

That’s why they miss the lineage of Jasmine French to Henry James’ landmark character, Isabel Archer. In the late 19th century, she was an innocent abroad, the novel a portrait of a still-young nation as much as what James called it, “The Portrait of a Lady.”

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