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Blue Jasmine

About.com Rating 5 Star Rating


Blue Jasmine

Cate Blanchett and Alec Baldwin in a scene from 'Blue Jasmine'

Towards the end of the movie Manhattan, Isaac Davis, played by Woody Allen, records a list of the things that make life worth living. Groucho Marx, Marlon Brando, Cezanne’s fruit, and Louis Armstrong’s Potato Head Blues are part of the inventory. If it was my list, I’d add this: Woody Allen. I think a lot of movie buffs would agree.

Any time a new Woody comes out, it's cause to take notice. If the movie falls flat, it can be downright painful. But when it has that particular effervescence that only Allen can create, it's an event.

And so, here we are, at the end of July, 2013, and we have an event with Blue Jasmine, Woody's 43rd feature film as writer/director.

Cate Blanchett, in the title role, pulls out all the stops as the ultimate narcissist and phony. Her character invokes Ruth Madoff, the might-have-been Lady Macbeth in the Bernie Madoff scandal, who, by not getting carted off to prison, became a street-level pariah, given the punishment of having to live amongst the plebes-- going to the supermarket, riding a bus, and getting a job.

Jasmine suffers a similar fate.

Plus more.

Plus worse.

Jasmine French (she changed her name from the more boring Jeanette) is ingloriously cast-off from Park Avenue society after the arrest and prison suicide of her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin, as a better looking, more charismatic version of the monstrous Bernie).

The government has taken everything, and she is left financially broke and mentally broken. On the rebound from one nervous collapse, the waves of the next one are now crashing back in.

With nowhere to turn, she leaves New York City for San Francisco to move in with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Sally is the complete opposite of the tall, regal, and haughty Jasmine-- small, dark-haired, humble, cheerful and optimistic. Both make much of the fact that they're adopted, with Jasmine "having the better genes."

As soon as Jasmine descends on Ginger's turf -- in the the postcard paradise of blue-skied San Francisco -- everyone in Ginger's world is on defense, waiting for mayhem to ensue. And it does. The question is who Jasmine will succeed in obliterating -- or, conversely -- who will succeed in ousting her.

There are obvious echoes of A Streetcar Named Desire here. An older sister, now ravaged, once glamorous, with delusions of grandeur, crashes the other side of the tracks, where the working-class "other one" lives. Streetcar images abound: sweat-drenched clothing, low-rent dwellings, brawny men, T-shirts, drinking, bottles smashing, male-female battles, harsh lights glaring upon one who is too fragile to withstand it, and an all-is-at-stake meeting with the kindness of a particular stranger.

Jasmine doesn't hold back in her disdain for the great unwashed, particularly in regards to the men in Ginger's life-- the "losers"-- particularly Ginger's fiance Chili (Bobby Cannavale) and ex-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), the latter having lost everything when he became a victim of Hal's fraud. But as she rants on about the faults and weaknesses of Ginger's men, Jasmine has kept blind to the truth behind the men within her own life, both past and present.

Blue Jasmine's narrative goes backwards and forward in time, in smooth, quick shifts, from present-tense San Francisco -- where Jasmine finds part-time work as a dental receptionist -- to her opulent past on the Upper East Side and in the Hamptons, where, dressed in her characteristic gold, she glides from glittering parties to shopping sprees.

The flash-backs, often cued at particular moments within Jasmine's memory, slowly reveal what brought about her fall, and ultimately, the truth about how much she knew or didn't know about her husband's indiscretions.

Gulping vodka and Xanax, babbling to herself, hurling insults, and sliding from one panic attack to the next, Jasmine is at once horrifying, horrible, and extremely sympathetic. Like most of Allen's heroines and anti-heroines, she is a complex creation-- pathetic yet funny, raging yet fragile. She is also exhausted-- from pretending, for so long, and with such intensity-- to be a false entity.

There are nearly equal parts drama and comedy in Blue Jasmine. It's a tale of darkness, yet there are more than a few truly great zinging one-liners, with many notable comedians in leading and supporting roles.

The cast is overall top-notch, with acknowledgment to casting directors Juliet Taylor and Patricia DiCerto. Blanchett is a formidable force. Her deep brown voice goes into Tallulah Bankhead territory, and she re-imagines the luminous, poetic madness of Gena Rowlands. Alec Baldwin brings a sleazy, charming discomfort to his Bernie-like villain, and Sally Hawkins shines as the sister pushed to question her own choices. Hawkins will most likely draw attention during Awards season, as will Andrew Dice Clay, who is heartbreakingly moving as Ginger's destroyed ex-husband. He holds his weight in one-on-one scenes with Blanchett, and brings his own self re-invention through the role.

There are stellar performances from Michael Stuhlbarg as a creepy but comic dentist, Peter Sarsgaard as a young diplomat who provides Jasmine with the possibility of a new future, and Louis C.K. as a very, very, very nice guy who seems too good to be true.

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  6. Blue Jasmine - A Review of Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine

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