Friday, August 9

REVIEW: Blue Jasmine

Directed by Woody Allen
2013 Drama
1 hour 38 minutes
From Sony Pictures Classics

Cate Blanchett
Sally Hawkins
Alec Baldwin
Bobby Cannavale
Andrew Dice Clay
Alden Ehrenreich
Louis C. K.
Peter Sarsgaard

Yes, four stars.  Here is a movie I could sink my teeth into and it's not about vampires.  It is about real life... real issues.  It's for adults.  It is directed and written by a man whose work in the past 10 years I greatly admire (after a long, long rocky history) and stars one of the premier actresses of our time.  They are why I went and I am so glad I did because I got so much more.

In fairness, it's not a film for everyone.  I heard some grumblings in my little art house theater.  That real life aspect that I loved so much is precisely why some folks won't like it.  They don't like films about real life.  Living it is quite enough.  Why spend the big bucks to go see a film about people and their everyday problems?  Personally, I think films about real life, everyday people with everyday or even extraordinary problems, is like holding up a mirror to oneself and looking at what is there.  I find little more rewarding than self-examination and if a film can do that, it is one helluva lot less expensive than therapy or booze or wreckage.

Jasmine is blue not like Avatar but more like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.  Let's say she is not coping well.  She's either had a breakdown or going to have one or still having one or having a new one.  Her breakdown is at the heart of the story which unfolds as her rich New York husband has gone all Bernie Madoff on her (and others) and along with him losing everything he has, so has she.  He is also a serial cheater and after years of questioning it, when it is out in the open, she more or less loses her mind.

It was about the last thing to go.  She also lost the jewels, furs, multiple charge accounts, status, friends, servants, the best tables in restaurants, limos, travel.  If that's not bad enough, she must stay with her sister in San Francisco.  What Jasmine must do under these circumstances is grovel and let's face it, this is not something with which the wealthy have an easy time.

She and her sister are as different as sisters can be.  They are not biological sisters... both were adopted by the same family.  They seemingly have nothing in common except a history.  The sister is too honest and too talkative.  She has spread truths about Jasmine to all her own crowd.  Jasmine is too dishonest... a damaged woman who must embellish and lie as a salve to her wounded ego.  The sister is more hopeful of a bright future and Jasmine is sure it's all over for her.  We wonder as the film progresses whether she will ever be warmed in the sun again.

I loved the family dynamics.  It's not only about sisters not seeing eye to eye but also about in-laws and prospective in-laws and their issues joining a fractured family.  It was also a searing look into the lives of the rich and the not-so-rich.  I do not fault the writing (Allen's) in laying out some stereotypes for each group.  Whether wealthy or poor, there are some traits common to each that we are all quite accustomed to.  There's the self-absorption of the rich, their haughtiness, their being out-of-touch with an emotional element of the real world, their pampered ways, their lust for power.

Observing the 1% having to deal with the 99% can be most amusing... especially those little people with their beer bellies, bad English and lack of opportunity, initiative and focus.  Do they never tire of keg parties, pizza, BBQs, Sunday sports, shopping at K-Mart and gross public behavior?   

Well, to be sure, Jasmine and her sister are going to have a rough go of it.  Jasmine looks down on her sister while accepting her hospitality sans payment.  The sister is trying to help Jasmine out as best she can but has never really forgiven Jasmine for getting her involved with the Madoff-husband and losing all their money.

There are so many fabulous characterizations here.  Every main character is so richly drawn.  Whether we like them or not, we have come to understand them and we can certainly see why they do what they do and we are pained to see some of the less-than-winning choices they may make.  Of course, as in all Allen films, there is much talk.  Missing here is what one might refer to as the Allen schtick of yore.  Despite this being a drama there are a few funny lines, but this is in no way a comedy.  Not only are the main characters finely etched, but so are the supporting characters.  

And the acting...!  Well....!  Miss Blanchett is, of course, a revelation.  After Elizabeth I said she could never be better.  Then I loved her in The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Gift and even BanditsCharlotte Gray is one of my favorite Blanchett films.  And of course, she was Hepburn in The Aviator and that Oscar was a shimmering example of when the Academy gets it right.  Notes on a Scandal and I'm Not There were stunning performances.

And now Blue Jasmine.  She has got to be one of the names mentioned for Oscar's best actress.  This performance is one of our top actresses at her very best.  It should be standard viewing in film schools.  Actresses usually feel very fortunate to be one of Allen's leading ladies.

Frankly, just as wonderful was Sally Hawkins as the sister.  In fact, if this role wasn't done to perfection, I would have thought a bit less of the film as a whole.  I have known this character a lot in my life.  I have been related to her, she's been a friend's wife, she's been a coworker, I've observed her everywhere.  Hawkins nailed her.  I never once caught her acting.

Then there's Bobby Cannavale and (yikes!) Andrew Dice Clay.  Frankly, I haven't heard of Clay in many years and I actually had already thought he'd been reincarnated as Cannavale.  I am positive I would never think of Clay to be in my film.  But hat's off to Woody who certainly has always had the sensory means for picking the right people for the right roles.  Clay as Hawkins' ex-husband and Cannavale as her current boyfriend are both exceptionally well-cast and give beautiful performances.

When Baldwin is right for a role, he is just so right.  Again, credit Allen with knowing who is best suited for roles he has written.  And imagine even thinking of Louis C.K. for the role of a lusty suitor.  I wouldn't have but Allen did and it was another bullseye.

A piece of the film that I greatly admired, even appreciated, was how it was edited.  Rather than just going from Jasmine's rich existence to her impoverished one, the film plays a little leap-frog.  We are provided an immediate understanding of why the lady is having a difficult time by going back and forth.  And since the San Francisco part is more of a downer, it was good to mix it up a bit... a little Velveeta nachos, cutting to some Pouilly Fuisse and caviar.

I was a little surprised that there was not more of a tribute to San Fabulouscisco than there was.  Not that there is anything offputting.  There are some nicely done shots to establish where we are but by and large Allen has love affairs with the cities in his films and that did not happen here.  But as usual, there was a wonderful musical potpourri which always adds immeasurable pleasure to his films.

I am so delighted that I have enjoyed Allen's work more lately.  I once gave four stars to his Midnight in Paris.  I loved Match Point and Scoop.  I look forward to what's to come.  I hope he and Blanchette work together again.

I will see this one again and pick up all those little things that I may have missed this time around.  Sometimes when one is oohing and aahing during a movie, one misses stuff that can only be glommed during an encore performance. 

Femme Fatale

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