Friday, August 2, 2013

The Big Review: "Blue Jasmine"

Not pictured, a streetcar or a lady selling roses. 

A sweet and sad movie, and a fine effort from Allen. Cate Blanchett should get some consideration come Oscar time. (And, yes, I heard that Ellen DeGeneres is hosting this year. She's perfectly agreeable, but she's not dynamic me to watch genuinely or loathsome enough to hate-watch.)

Anyway, this review appeared in August's ICON and is reprinted with permission.


A common complaint about Woody Allen is that his films profile a certain type of New Yorker: the urban dandy who wears a sports jacket to dinner and never has a roommate. These characters walk in rarified air—or take a cab if the weather is too chilly.

Blue Jasmine’s title character (Cate Blanchett) is an extreme example, a toned-down Queen of Versailles who considers Pilates and yoga part of her busy schedule and hosting a marketable skill. Such a high society nitwit begs for derision. Allen doesn’t go for the easy target. In his mind, Jasmine is permanently adrift. Thanks to the director’s compassion and Blanchett’s splendid performance, Blue Jasmine breaks our hearts instead of filling them with malevolent glee. And it’s a better, more substantial movie because of it.  

Jasmine, who has taken to talking to herself, is hanging by a thread when her plane lands in San Francisco. Her late husband (Alec Baldwin, whom we see in flashbacks) lost their fortune after being busted for a series of shady financial maneuverings. Jasmine still dresses like a politician’s wife and even flew first-class. Her sister and temporary host, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), a grocery store employee, is confused. Isn’t first-class really expensive? How’d she end up there? “I just did,” replies Jasmine, as if she was being asked how one breathes. 

Ginger’s apartment—her whole life, really—is a severe disappointment to Jasmine. When she first enters the perfectly serviceable abode—and this is where Allen’s deft touch and Blanchett’s acting mesh—you can hear her world shatter as the director tours the main room. Forget about the cramped quarters. Its Southwestern-colored walls and flea market art assault Jasmine’s cream-colored, subdued sensibilities. Everything in San Francisco is harsher. The colors are brighter. The people she meets want more than an in at Le Cirque. Ginger’s boyfriend, Chili (Bobby Cannavale), is a mechanic whom Jasmine immediately despises. He’s as refined as mozzarella sticks and has a short fuse, but his biggest flaw is that he traffics in realism. Chili hasn’t known Jasmine a day but keeps asking her what she’s going to do. There’s a vague notion of returning to college. What will she study? How will she get there? She hasn’t thought that far ahead.

Even without the Xanax and stiff drinks, Jasmine has woven a cocoon of delusion so thick that it’s impossible for her to break free. So she plays the role—her wardrobe remains immaculate throughout—hoping someone will provide a new, glamorous set. Until then, she’ll tell her sob stories and relate to Ginger by criticizing her lousy choice in men—while failing to see that Chili and her ex-husband (Andrew Dice Clay, who’s great) are real and loyal and loving. But that damned reality. It always ruins how we want to see things.

There are more than a few similarities to A Streetcar Named Desire here, starting with the displaced, cracked belle forced to reunite with her shabby sister and grease monkey beau. Allen does not ride the same tracks for too long. Jasmine gets a job as a dentist’s receptionist while learning how to use a computer. Ultimately, the goal is to go online to become an interior designer. Sure. The class goes far beyond Internet basics, and the dentist (Michael Stuhlbarg) throws himself on Jasmine, who storms out. 

She’s appalled by his behavior, I think, not because it is inappropriate. The dentist has committed the cardinal sin of seeing Jasmine at her bottom. This becomes evident a few scenes later, when she concocts a fabulous and false backstory upon meeting Dwight, a dashing almost-ambassador played by Peter Sarsgaard, at a party. Materialism governs Jasmine’s life. The flashbacks portray Jasmine and Hal as a husband and wife in name only. They’re playing roles. Jasmine, elegant and beautiful, gives Hal class; Hal gives Jasmine everything. “Is there anything you want that you don’t have?” he asks at one point. He was Jasmine’s conduit to a lifestyle. Dwight is a replacement. She doesn’t fall in love for who Dwight is but what he represents: a handsome man with political aspirations and a huge new house that can host a Gatsbyesque party. Jasmine can’t be saved. What’s worse, she doesn’t even know it. 

Blanchett offers a gut-wrenching performance, but it’s not so grand that we don’t see who Jasmine is and what Allen is saying about us: we are this close to losing our way, with only our memories to keep us company. The last time I checked that problem is not unique to the Upper East Side. 


Penguin LHI One Way Links visit site said...

Jasmine is a good movie, one of Allen's best in years, but the draw here is Blanchett, whose performance takes an off-putting character and makes her surprisingly, um ... not quite on-putting, but riveting.

Best Reviews for Minnesota Divorce Lawyer Attorney,TCA said...

A sharply observed, post-economic crash comedy-drama that boasts a formidable performance by Cate Blanchett and addresses such pertinent real-world concerns as class, gender and corporate criminality in urban America.