' ' Cinema Romantico: Blue Jasmine

Monday, August 12, 2013

Blue Jasmine

I have long feared Woody Allen was unaware of just what decade he is actually in. Even during "Midnight in Paris" I was not completely convinced the movie was where it was until Zelda showed up - prior to that I simply suspected Woody thought girls at cocktail parties in The Aughts still wore flapper headbands. "Blue Jasmine", the mesmerizingly prolific writer/director's latest feature film, finally provides confirmation that yes, he is aware of the time in which he's living.

Quite consciously it is set post-2008 financial crisis and sort of becomes The Woodman's way of socking it to the greedy jerks who turned America topsy-turvy. As much as he can sock it to them, of course, since this is still Woody Allen. But for every posh Manhattan penthouse and picturesque house in the Hamptons and cavernous digs perched right on the water in San Francisco, there is also a "cozier" apartment atop a bar in a less trendy neighborhood in the city by the bay. Granted, this apartment - rented by a grocery checker, mind you - still comes equipped with a fireplace and swank framed pieces of art but, hey, you can't win 'em all.

That cozy house belongs to Ginger (Sally Hawkins) whose sister Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), re-christened from Janette, comes to stay (shades of Blanche & Stella, but also notes of Lucy & Jenny in last year's imperfect but riveting "Union Square") in the wake of her husband (Alec Baldwin) being sent up the river for bilking innocents - including Ginger and her ex-husband (Andrew Dice Clay) - out of millions. Jasmine, still flailing in the wake of a psychotic breakdown, pops pills and swills vodka, occasionally re-going coo-coo and chatting herself up.

The film employs parallel narratives as in the present day we watch Jasmine, talking loud about becoming an interior decorator, uncomfortably co-exist with the sister she doesn't really know. In the meantime we continually flash back to Jasmine's previous hoity-toity life, consumed with shopping and dinner parties and gossip. In the present she talks (brags) of charitable work in her past, but when we are in the past we never see any of these acts actually taking place.

Also, that we never see her husband's suicide - revealed very early and, thus, not really a spoiler - lends credence to the fact these fat cats can go hog wild and then off themselves to whitewash their guilt while those affected have to struggle forward in the wake. Not that Jasmine is an innocent - far from it.

Her husband has affairs right and left, and none too subtly, but she never notices, much in the same way she never notices her husband's less than forthright business practices. In other words, lie to yourself to live the life to which you assume you are entitled. And Jasmine, in spite of being penniless and homeless, still assumes she is awfully entitled.

She will still tell a Louis Vuitton suitcase full of lies to re-ascend rich mountain, which is what she finds herself doing when a mystical U.N. Diplomat named Dwight materializes, whisks her off her feet and proposes marriage about nine minutes later. He is played by the skilled and accomplished Peter Sarsgaard in a role that, frankly, gives him nothing - nothing - to sink his teeth into, existing just to expedite our non-heroine's descent. The Woodman has been underwriting female roles off and on for years and, ironically, in "Blue Jasmine" all the men - aside from Clay, moved aside too soon - are just uninteresting proxies.

Ginger is labored with a pair - Bobby Cannavale's grease monkey with boy-band hair who seems awfully Brooklyn-ish (maybe he moved?) and Louis C.K.'s awkward but gracious Al who, like Dwight, exists as needed until Woody yanks him offstage with the cane. This is a shame, primarily because Hawkins gives an outstandingly gawky performance, both allowing herself to be pushed over by her shrewish sister but also demonstrating that binding sisterly love. She, in fact, comes across as the most selfless and genuine person in the whole film, and she earned the right for a finish less pat than the one she receives.

She is also the necessary bracer for tolerating Jasmine. Make no mistake, Blanchett utterly, bravely refuses to play likable, asking no empathy and then spitting in your face just for good measure. And I suspect this is all part of the design to turn the movie screen into a pillory with Jasmine strung up as the offender.

That the catharsis does not necessarily feel complete can perhaps be traced to the film's rigid and rehearsed tone, a sensation that the whole thing exists just to get Jasmine to where she is at the end, a machine of the gods.

Maybe that, or maybe I was just selfishly disappointed that Ginger did not get a scene where she punched Jasmine right on the schnoz.


Alex Withrow said...

Describing a Woody Allen movie (especially a new Woody Allen movie) as one with a "rigid and rehearsed tone" is very accurate. I feel like most of the movies he's made over the past 15 years fit that bill, even Blue Jasmine, although, in my opinion, to a lesser degree.

I really liked this film, but it wouldn't have worked nearly as well as it didn't were it not for the inspired casting choices. Cate Blanchett yet again proves she is a goddess, while Hawkins is just miraculous.

Great review as always, my friend.

Nick Prigge said...

Yeah, I just feel like for the last 15 years you can always figuratively see the script outline on the screen as his movies progress. Not that I have disliked all his movies in that time period - I haven't - but it's noticeable.