Thursday, August 1, 2013
BLUE JASMINE (2013)
If you ever wondered what Woody Allen's A Streetcar Named Desire or Cate Blanchett as Blanche duBois would be like, Allen's newest, Blue Jasmine, should vividly answer those questions. Comparisons between Tennessee Williams' destruction of the Southern belle mythos and Allen's story of two sisters forced together when one falls from her ivory tower are bound to happen, but this film is much more about the delusion of grandeur attached to obscene wealth than the dynamic between estranged sisters.
Cate Blanchett is Jeanette, no, Jasmine, an egotistical high society matron who married rich and changed her name, transforming herself in the process. One gets the impression that Jeanette was like Veda in Mildred Pierce and Jasmine is the end result of a lifelong pursuit of the finer things. Her marriage comes crashing down when the Feds catch up with her husband (Alec Baldwin), who has been cheating the government and his financial backers, not to mention philandering behind Jasmine's back. Home and belongings are repossessed and Jasmine is forced to crawl to San Francisco (on first class no less) to live with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). The two have not seen each other since Ginger's visit to New York with her then-husband (Andrew Dice Clay), and Jasmine finds that little sis has found another roughneck boyfriend named Chili (Bobby Canavale) since her divorce. As Jasmine struggles to find a job and complete her college education, she also begins to slowly unravel as the cold reality of her situation begins to chip away at her sanity...which was never very solid to begin with.
The trailer for Blue Jasmine almost sells it as a whimsical comedy, and while the film has its share of humorous moments, it really benefits from a veneer of darkness cast over its characters and their interactions. We follow Jasmine and Ginger, and while we hope that there is some hope for them when all is said and done, that simply won't be the case. It's interesting to note that both sisters are adopted, and while Ginger ran away from home because their parents supposed preferred Jeanette and made her own way from a young age, Jeanette never had to figure things out for herself. She dropped out of college to marry a man who spoiled her with lavish gifts and social standing, and when it all falls apart, she has nowhere to turn but to a sister who she sneers at for having poor taste in men. Jasmine is too busy judging Ginger's choices to notice that she has her own home, supports her two children with menial jobs, and is with a man who, while blue-collar and uncouth, loves her. But then Jasmine is not about these women coming together after so many years and learning to understand each other. It's about one continuing to make poor decisions, and the other settling into a comfortably numb existence. Allen doesn't much care for his characters here to grow or reach life-changing revelations, but that isn't necessary for us to appreciate the time spent with these hot messes.
In some ways, Jasmine feels like a Woody Allen film for people who hate Woody Allen films. He does not appear on-camera, nor has he cast a similar stand-in, but more importantly, his biting attack on the elitist upper-class is in direct opposition of his usual class politics. Sure, some scenes come off as "wealth porn", basking in the gorgeous homes and locations Allen was able to secure for shooting, but Ginger's apartment is never shown as being that big of a step down for Jasmine. Perhaps because with these changing economic times, it looks pretty damn cozy and downright familiar to today's audiences. While Allen's films tend to be aimed at a more elitist crowd of film viewers, Jasmine does not feel like it's intended for that same audience. This slightly new artistic point of view, and being his first film shot mostly in San Francisco, encourages me to recommend this film to just about everyone, including his detractors.
In what might be the year's first front runner performance for a Best Actress Oscar, Blanchett is a ball of nervous energy, when she isn't cruising through life with a breezy and entitled point of view. She makes it very difficult to completely dislike Jasmine, with her pitiful eyes and bouts of manic conversation with herself. We want Jasmine to find herself back into a kept woman marriage, if only so she can stop being so damn miserable and leave her sister to live as she wants. British Hawkins, well cast as flighty free spirits in films like Happy-Go-Lucky (2008) and Made in Dagenham (2010), slides nicely into the role of Ginger, though unlike Australian Blanchette, she has some trouble maintaining her American accent. It's good to see comics Andrew Dice Clay and Louis C.K. here. While C.K. does his sad-sack "Louie" routine very well, it's Clay who is really impressive as Ginger's bitter ex-husband. All memories of Adventures of Ford Fairlane are forgiven. I don't know how to feel about Allen casting former "Bachelorette" Ali Fedotowsky as a physical trainer; recognizing this reality star in a legit film project unpleasantly took me out of the movie.