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Thursday, September 05, 2013

Movie Review - Blue Jasmine

In the last decade, Woody Allen has ventured far from his traditional Manhattan cinematic stomping grounds for the more exotic locales of London, Paris, and Rome. With Blue Jasmine, Allen returns to America, but splits his story between the urbane high society of the Hamptons with the blue collar neighborhoods of San Francisco. (The city by the bay is a far cry from La La Land Los Angeles which Allen tore apart in Annie Hall.) It turns out that the setting isn’t the only thing split in his story.

The film establishes the bi-coastal premise with its opening scenes of a jet airliner flying across country where our heroine, Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) is yammering on about her life, how she met her deceased husband Hal (Alec Baldwin), and everything in between. To the world around her, she is a lady talking to herself, because she is self-centered and self-absorbed. In Jasmine’s world, the planet revolves around her.

Jasmine seeks a new life in her new locale where her sister by adoption, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), is trying her best to keep her life together raising two sons after a failed marriage and juggling her career as a grocery clerk with (as Jasmine pegs him) a loser boyfriend. Ginger realizes that Jasmine’s husband is partly to blame for the downfall of her marriage to Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), but she is willing to put the past aside to help her (also adopted) sister. Throw in the other men in her life such as the steady Chili (Bobby Canavale) and the temporary fling Al (Louis CK), and the audience can see that Jasmine may have a point.

The story splits between the past, where Jasmine was a high-flying Manhattan socialite buoyed by her husband’s investment empire, and the present where she is reduced to pursuing her dream of becoming an interior decorator via an online course. First she has to take a computer course to understand the Internet, and in order to finance that, Jasmine has to find…a job! She lands a position that is clearly beyond her capability: as a receptionist at a dental office where she struggles with scheduling patients, phone calls, and wouldn’t you know it, self-centered people who demand that the dentist see them next. 
Her professional life may be a disaster, but her personal life perks up when she meets Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard), a widower with political ambitions and a house needing an interior decorating make over. The problem is, Jasmine’s life has been built on deceptions. The parents who raised her were not her own; the man who professed his love for her supported them with dubious, possibly illegal financial schemes, before being caught as a serial philanderer; and now she concocts a new life story line for the man who will be the first man in her life that will truly love Jasmine for being Jasmine. A chance encounter with ex-brother-in-law Augie — who’s entrepreneurial ambitions were dashed by another of Hal’s schemes — topples her house of deception on top of her. 

Jasmine may be trying her best to break away from her past, but her socialite lifestyle must be in her DNA; it keeps bursting forth at strange moments. In one memorable scene, she dishes on life to her nephews over a pizza dinner. When she nags Ginger about the losers in her life, we suspect that it is not out of sisterly concern, but perhaps her bourgeois past sneering at the blue collar workers who actually did the toiling for Hal’s financial success. Paging Marx and Engels, paging Marx and Engels!

Pizza! How proletariat can you get?

Allen gets great mileage out of his treatment of Jasmine’s story, and he gets great performances from all of his actors. Blanchard’s portrayal of Jasmine will doubtless get a lot of buzz at Oscar time; be prepared to see the pizza scene everywhere ad nauseum early next year. No worries, because it is a scene worth seeing multiple times.

Those of us who have ignored Andrew Dice Clay for many years are pleasantly surprised with his character of Augie. The accent of the Diceman still dominates, but the old misogynistic tendencies are supplanted by a genuine feel for the working class man. Baldwin and Hawkins also turn in genuine performances within the settings their characters are called upon to exist.

In the end, it turns out that the losers may not make much money in their lives through not always their own fault, but they are more trustworthy in their relationships. Ginger is happiest with Chili after a brief dalliance with Al; indeed, she enjoys teasing her faithful boyfriend with, yes, you guessed it, a slice of pizza! Meanwhile, Jasmine’s life has fallen apart again. Instead of being the strange woman who talks to herself on the streets of Manhattan, she becomes the strange woman who babbles to herself on the streets of San Francisco.

Blue Jasmine is dark. It has tragedy, it has laughs, and it even has one scene of domestic violence. Allen’s story is not his typical comedy of yore. It is sad, but ultimately satisfying like a nice slice of…well you know.

(Thank you for reading. Proletariat pepperoni pizza forever!)


Blogger Harpers Keeper said...

Everything I have read about this makes me want to see it. thanks for adding to the wave

September 5, 2013 at 11:47 PM  
Blogger todd gunther said...

Hi Harper's Keeper. Thanks for the comment. The other reviews have compared it to "A Streetcar Named Desire," but i couldn't do that because -- confession time -- I've never seen that film all the way through. I'll need to rectify that soon!

September 6, 2013 at 8:52 AM  
Anonymous Janey said...

Apparently the plot also has similarities to Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire"; Cate Blanchett portrayed Blanche -- arguably the greatest theatrical role for a woman -- in a recent and widely praised performance.

I look forward to viewing Blue Jasmine -- thanks for your review. Truly, you should be writing for a living.

September 6, 2013 at 7:50 PM  
Blogger Harpers Keeper said...

Since my previous comment I have seen the movie. It is outstanding.

I can see why the comparisons to 'Streetcar' arise but I think one must be cautious of overstating them. The similarities are mostly situational. This is not a post-modern take on Tennessee Williams'.

September 12, 2013 at 12:34 AM  

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