Blue Jasmine (2013) / Drama-Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for thematic material, language and sexual content
Running time: 98 min.
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins, Bobby Cannavale, Pater Sarsgaard, Andrew Dice Clay, Louis C.K, Michael Stuhlbarg
Director: Woody Allen
Screenplay: Woody Allen
Review published August 17, 2013
Writer-director Woody Allen (To Rome with Love, Midnight in Paris) puts the Bernie Madoff scandal through the ringer of Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire" (is it merely a coincidence that star an acress named 'Blanchett' plays the Blanche-ish title role? Or that the actress has come off of a recent Broadway stint of the famous play in the very role?) for Blue Jasmine, a drama interspersed with some comic relief that feels more akin to some of the movies the filmmaker had made when he had the budget and cast to make them.
Cate Blanchett (The Hobbit, Hanna) stars as a upper crust New York socialite named Jasmine, who was raised in a sheltered, privileged manner from the time she had been adopted to the time her financial wiz former husband Hal (Baldwin, Rock of Ages) gets put away in prison for bilking his investors out of millions. Now without much money, Jasmine has taken to selling off some of her most expensive items to support herself, and to buy a ticket (first class, of course) out to San Francisco to stay for a spell with her working class sister, Ginger (Hawkins, Layer Cake). If the small, gaudily decorated apartment weren't enough to make Jasmine cringe, she certainly isn't prepared for Ginger's noisy, brash children, and, worst of all, her "grease-monkey" fiancée, Chili (Cannavale, Lovelace). She finds it impossible to cope, downing Stoli and popping Xanax whenever anxiety threatens to overtake her. But she has a plan that will lead her to happiness, which is to work her way to an interior design degree, a job that will help her meet the kind of man who might take her away from having to live like anything less than a queen.
What elevates Blue Jasmine above most of the Woody Allen releases in recent years is the quality of the acting, particularly in the multifaceted portrayal by Cate Blanchett. Blanchett is phenomenal in the various stages of her condition, going from cool and comfortable to an easily agitated train wreck trying to cope light-years outside of her comfort zone. We see evidence of the nuance of her performance as Allen drops back and forth in the time line to Jasmine's past and present, and we know which timeline we're in merely by how adjusted and comfortable Blanchett appears to be.
Interestingly, the main conflict of the movie for Jasmine isn't an external force or obstacle that she must overcome; the main crux of the film is Jasmine's ability or inability to deal with the fact that her days of wealth, security and comfort are likely behind her -- a one-percenter forced to live her life in a 99% world, and without very many marketable skills to boot. Allen paints Jasmine with a mix of derision and sympathy, seeing her as a creature of comfort who wants to live a certain way, and doesn't understand when others don't choose to live as she does, despite the expense of perpetual extravagance. She has no tolerance for introspection, opting to drown out her shortcomings with as many drugs as her body can handle.
Because of the casting of stand-up comedians like Louis C.K. (The Invention of Lying, Role Models) and Andrew Dice Clay (Amazon Women on the Moon, Pretty in Pink) in supporting roles, viewers expecting a light Woody Allen comedy will come away disappointed about the film's lack of big laughs, as this is a character study drama first and foremost, with most of the mirthful moments coming from the comedy of errors from the perpetual culture clash that occurs between Jasmine and the less-concerned-with-etiquette regular Joes. While the comedians add some flash to a credible cast, it's Bobby Cannavale's passionate performance in the Stanley Kowalski-ish role of Chili that is the film's brightest non-Blanchett spot. It's a bit of a heartbreak to see how Jasmine's constant remarks about him seem to be having an effect on Ginger's views as well, as she begins to have an eye for a sound engineer who might have his own business. Nevertheless, it is fun to see Chili's nuanced mockery of Jasmine's air of superiority by making attempts to draw her out from her perch, while also undercutting her at the same time.
At its core, Blue Jasmine is about the difficulties that present themselves when a person of great wealth suddenly must cope with being below the poverty line and having to start over again. When once everything in life was easy, and wonderful things happened just by asking for them, now the same person finds they will have to work, and work hard, to get a fraction of the things that they want in life. Allen seems to have a particular contempt for the rich who gained their wealth, not through hard work or artistic means, but by just gaming the system -- something I'm sure he's more than familiar with having to deal with the type in and around his home of Manhattan. They no longer know what it's like to struggle because even the very way they earned their wealth was comparatively easy, he surely must think.
Blue Jasmine represents a Woody Allen that is trying to continue to be the relevant filmmaker he once had been in the eyes of many, both critically and commercially. Midnight in Paris made people pay attention again, and now that he knows the audience might be back, it's good to see his ambitions soar again, making films that aren't regurgitations of previous efforts, but also uniquely different than any movie we've seen before. Love it or not, it's a singular film.
©2013 Vince Leo