Saturday, August 3, 2013

Movie Review: "Blue Jasmine"

No matter whether his movies gravitate toward the fantastical (Midnight in Paris, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Alice) or the more ordinary (Hannah and Her Sisters, Radio Days), Woody Allen always has a discerning eye for human foibles, especially of those with a slightly less tenuous grip on reality.

Allen's latest film, Blue Jasmine, definitely leans more toward the latter category, although the title character periodically lives in a fantasy world all her own. Jasmine, née Jeanette (a haggard yet haughty Cate Blanchett), is having a tough time of things. Her marriage to wealthy businessman Hal (Alec Baldwin), in which she was showered with gifts and a life of privilege, has come to a jarring end, and she has lost all of her money and the trappings she had become used to. These losses, as she was forced to come to the realization that her husband was not all he seemed to be, has greatly affected her mental stability as well.

At the end of her rope, financially and emotionally, she flees to San Francisco to move in with her sister, Ginger (a marvelous if underused Sally Hawkins). Ginger and Jasmine have lived in two separate worlds for far too long, and it's no surprise to either of them—or those around them, including Ginger's brash mechanic boyfriend, Chili (Bobby Cannavale, gruff and vulnerable)—that Jasmine has reached out to Ginger only out of desperation. Yet despite her troubles, Jasmine isn't above putting on airs. She talks of becoming an interior decorator ("I have an eye for soft furnishings") and finding someone "substantial," but she must take a "menial" job to support herself.

Jasmine also pops Xanax as if they were Tic-Tacs and loves her Stoli martinis, and from time to time engages in conversations with the air (although she thinks she's speaking to Hal). Half of the film is told in flashbacks as you see Jasmine's life with Hal unfold, and get a taste of the life to which she has become accustomed. And you also see her character transition from the wide-eyed, naive spouse, happy to be pampered, to one growing increasingly suspicious of her husband, and you realize she isn't as innocent as she claims to be.

The other half of the movie chronicles Jasmine's attempts to reconcile her current situation with what she thinks she deserves. She's determined to help Ginger better herself as well, and keeps insisting she find a "more suitable" man than Chili, much to his chagrin. And Jasmine isn't quite through with her fantasies, as she makes one last run toward happiness and comfort with a new man (Peter Sarsgard).

Blanchett is an absolute marvel in this movie. She almost never stops talking—often rambling, in fact—but at times you're not sure if you should laugh with her or feel sorry for her. Her portrayal of a woman constantly on the verge of utter breakdown is poignant, humorous, and pathetic, but she is far from a sympathetic character. She definitely deserves an Oscar nomination for this performance.

This is Blanchett's movie, which doesn't leave many of her costars with much to do. Cannavale makes the most of his role as a blowhard who resents Jasmine's interfering in her sister's life, and his role in it. Hawkins brings her usual merry charm, and although you can see in her performance the seeds of a woman torn between helping the sister who has never shown her any attention and showing her the door, Allen never really gives her the chance to shine or explore exactly why she continues to be Jasmine's doormat. Surprisingly, Andrew Dice Clay makes the most of his small but pivotal role, while Louis C.K.'s part seems tacked on and unnecessary.

It's somewhat difficult to watch a movie that chronicles a woman's struggles and near dissociative breakdown, but Blanchett is so fantastic you can't take your eyes off her, even if the movie isn't quite as good as she is.

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