Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Blue Jasmine

Directed by Woody Allen.
2013. Rated PG-13, 98 minutes.
Cate Blanchett
Alec Baldwin
Sally Hawkins
Bobby Cannavale
Andrew Dice Clay
Peter Sarsgaard
Louis C.K.
Michael Stuhlbarg
Max Casella
Alden Ehrenreich

Jasmine (Blanchett) is no longer with her husband Hal (Baldwin), but can't stop going on about all the wonderful things they used to do together to anyone within earshot. It turns out they were once fabulously wealthy. Her days were spent having expensive lunches with her friends and planning charity events. Circumstances I won't spoil forced them apart and put her in the poor house. With nowhere else to go, and having to start over, Jasmine takes what money she has and flies to San Francisco to stay with her sister Ginger (Hawkings) who has a couple of young sons and is on the verge of having her fiance Chili (Cannavale) move in with her. To say all of this is a shock to her system is putting it mildly. Jasmine trying to put the pieces of her life back together while flashing back to what once was ensues.

Two things jump out at you as outstanding aspects of this film. The first is Cate Blanchett's performance in the titular role. She dazzles with her portrayal of a woman frayed at the edges, and with full knowledge of that, resolutely clinging to her self-righteousness. She's in touch with the reality of her situation, but not entirely sure how reality works. It's a complicated act akin to juggling chainsaws. One false move would mean certain death for her believability. Fortunately, each time she tosses a saw in the air she manages to catch it safely by the handle.

The other great aspect of this movie shines through Blanchett's performance. She makes it easy to recognize how well written Blue Jasmine is. Even during her least stable moments, it doesn't seem showy. It feels like a person having a difficult time coping, not an actor trying to impress the academy. Of course, that's exactly what she did and took home Oscar gold. A large part of that was the dialogue she and everyone else was given. From her, when talking to others, it is a constant stream of needling insults. No one thing she says could incite a riot, but her ever growing verbal combinations drives others insane. This is why the people around her blow up in her face from time to time, and take great joy in doing so. Her holier than thou attitude and complete stand-offishness gives them gless during the various moments in which she receives her comeuppance. When speaking to herself, whether others are present or not, she goes on strangely coherent rambles. By that, I mean what she's saying makes complete sense it just just lacks context to whoever is in her midst. They can easily figure out what she's talking about. They just won't be able to understand why. Writer/director Woody Allen pulls this off brilliantly. He puts his protagonist in a world where she can have control of her surroundings even as she is losing control of her life. If something is not about her, she makes it that way. The question is whether or not she can fix any of it.

It would be tough to sell a movie with one great performance and not much else going for it as worth the bother. Fortunately, I've already mentioned Allen's writing. His directing deserves credit here, as well. He shoots scenes with the appropriate intimacy or distance depending on what's happening with Jasmine. Whenever she's trying to separate herself from a situation, she's off to one side, almost detached from whatever is happening. When others are probing her for answers to personal questions they get close-up, putting them in our face to suggest that they're also in hers. It's a bunch of subtle touches that come together to form our picture.

To help this picture take shape, others in the cast also perform very well. Alec Baldwin is perfectly slimy as Jasmine's beloved Hal. Bobby Cannavale sweats his way through an excellent portrayal of a guy who is happy with his station in life and whiny when things don't go his way. Sally Hawkins does well as the smarter-than-given-credit-for Ginger. However, I'd be lying if I didn't say I thought Sarah Silverman might have stolen the show with this role. For me, the one weak link is a guy who received tons of prais for his work, here. That's Andrew Dice Clay. It's not that he was necessarily bad, just terribly miscast. An integral part of his character, Ginger's ex-husband Augie, is being a San Francisco guy not used to swimming with the financial sharks of New York. In fact, he's never even been to the city. It comes off as the most artificial part of the movie because whenever he opens his mouth, that unmistakable Brooklyn accent comes flying out of it. It was utterly impossible for him to sound more like a native New Yorker.

That small misstep aside, Allen has crafted a wonderful film. The dialogue is sharp and the camera is very purposely placed throughout. Both of these things add the finishing touches on an already sizzling story. Being a Woody Allen script, there is humor, for sure. However, it's of a darker variety than his usual fare. Helping it get that way is Cate Blanchett, standing in for Woody himself. She takes his normally neurotic and longing for love protagonist and adds a layer of growing instability and denial. Idiosyncrasies are no longer the joke, but symptoms of more serious problems. That this is going on within a person who has a huge ego only complicates things. By the end, Allen impresses by offering no easy explanations. He presents us with a set of events and asks us to draw our own conclusions. Yup, I'm a sucker for well done ambiguous endings. For my money, this is the best Woody Allen movie at least since Vicky Cristina Barcelona and possibly as far back as Match Point.


  1. In the first opening scene where we're first introduced to Jasmine, I thought hey that's the typical Woody Allen neurotic/pseudo intellectual rambling character, and she is, but with the added crazy in there as we zoom out and see the context of the ramblings. It's really a sad depressing look at a woman trying to get her head straight and get her life back to the life of privilege that she used to but it's hard slope to climb. I saw this a few months back and like it a lot. Since I'm not a really a fan of Vicky Christina Barcelona, I think it's Woody Allen's best since Match Point.

    1. Jasmine is a deeply layered character, both in the way she's written and the way she's performed. I did like VCB, but I agree that this is better.

  2. Solid review, man. I thought this movie was a tough watch, as Jasmine is a fairly awful person. Not in any direct way, but maybe, as you said, if you put all the pieces together.

    All that said, it was a fantastic performance and a brilliant script. Just something I don't want to revisit...

    1. I definitely couldn't stand to be in the same room with Jasmine for more than a few minutes and this is no feel good flick. So yeah, even though I thought it was excellent I'm in no rush to watch it again.

  3. "Even during her least stable moments, it doesn't seem showy. " This is exactly why Blanchett owned this role from start to finish. Great review and precisely how I feel about it! This movie also makes for some fabulous animated gifs haha

    1. Thanks a bunch. Blanchett is ridiculously good, here. Thank you for reading.

  4. I really liked this movie, the script was so strong and Blanchett was just unreal. I didn't notice the accent issue with that guy because I never do, well only if it's really bad, like Hilary Swank in Black Dahlia bad.

  5. Normally, I'm not such a stickler about accents as long as the actor consistently uses it. In this case, its his real accent so consistency isn't he issue. I'm way too familiar with him and his persona and New York accents so it was impossible for me to let it slide.