Monday, August 12, 2013

Blue Jasmine

At the end, I've included the synopsis and embedded the trailer. 


If you’re going to knock Woody Allen films, or at least recent Woody Allen films, there’s the easy criticism that a certain self-satisfaction exudes from some of the characters. They’ve been born into a world of art galleries, yachts, ridiculously expensive bills from restaurants named after French dudes, and they’re not exactly apologizing for it. This isn’t to say that the films don’t have their share of people like you and me (unless you’re one of those people who just loves Louis’ or Paul’s or whatever), but only that there seems to be clear delineation between their world and our world, between us and them.

That’s something that sets Blue Jasmine apart in a way that I hadn’t anticipated. It’s relentless in the way that it deconstructs the myth of the spoiled trophy wife. This isn’t to say that the script is merciless, as there’s a fair bit of compassion for the central character, but I have yet to come up with an Allen film that’s been this focused in its attack on the vapid, out-of-touch isolation of a privileged lifestyle gone wrong.

In many ways, I almost read Blue Jasmine as a response to Allen’s critics, however unconscious and unintentional that might be. There’s almost a marked attempt to use his weaknesses as strengths. In addition to the quasi-microscopic take on privilege that I mentioned before, there’s another thing to contend with.

Cate Blanchett.

Her performance is one of the best I’ve seen her give. What’s more, it’s not only one of the best in an Allen film in recent years, it’s one of the best performances that’s ever graced one of his films. Woody’s penchant for writing female characters that go on to win awards for their actors isn’t exactly a secret, but these tend to be for showier roles that in many cases play toward Woody’s penchant for characterization that feels mannered and somewhat artificial. It’s not that the characters aren’t fabulously written and performed well so much as they feel fabulously written and the performances are trying hard to match that with whatever level of histrionics might be needed.

That’s what really sets Blanchett’s performance apart. She’s walking a razor’s edge between sanity and hysteria, trying desperately to stay on the right side. Other Allen characters talk to themselves because they’re nervous and neurotic and are trying to fill the audience in on things. Jasmine talks to herself because she has to, because her world has been so drastically turned upside down that she’s alone and adrift in a place where she has virtually no frame of reference. It’s that delicate balancing act that elevates her work in Blue Jasmine. It doesn’t come across as showmanship for its own sake so much as the action of a desperate person who has no idea what to do. For example, upon arriving in San Francisco, her sole “career decision” is to take a computer class so that she can “study interior decorating online.” Hey, forward momentum is good, but her affinity for announcing this to whoever asks her anything about her future is so sad in a misguided sort of way. She has no idea how silly she sounds. It breaks your heart a little bit.

Blue Jasmine also features strong work from Sally Hawkins (one of my favorites) and Louis CK. Their flirtation had me saying “awww” over and over again. Woody and Casting Directors Juliet Taylor & Patricia DiCerto deserve kudos for casting someone like Hawkins in such a big role, who’s yet to really break through in the United States. Here’s hoping that this role changes that!

As Woody’s first true dramatic film since 2007’s Cassandra’s Dream, Blue Jasmine succeeds best as a character study. As a whole, I think that some of the performances still feel a bit mannered, which detracts from the sense of realism that I think would have elevated it even further. That said, it’s an engaging look at a truly interesting person and, what’s more, you won’t be completely prepared for where it ends up. If it’s not a great film, Blue Jasmine is still a very good film. This massive Allen fan will take whatever he can get.

4 stars (out of 5)


"After everything in her life falls to pieces, including her marriage to wealthy businessman Hal (Alec Baldwin), elegant New York socialite Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) moves into her sister Ginger’s (Sally Hawkins) modest apartment in San Francisco to try to pull herself back together again." (from the official site)

1 comment:

Tom said...

Nicely done, sir.