Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Love: Blue Jasmine

Blue Jasmine is, in essence, what it looks like when Woody Allen writes as Tennessee Williams. Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) herself is a variation on the Blanche DuBois theme; she's a cultured pearl, a pampered Manhattanite whose world turns belly up when her husband is arrested for white-collar crimes.  As she waves goodbye to her Birkin bags, beach houses, and diamonds, Jasmine experiences a psychotic break.  Broke, unstable, and licking her wounds, Jasmine shelves her pride and moves in to her classless adopted sister Ginger's (Sally Hawkins) humble San Francisco apartment. Like Blanche, Jasmine is a woman who remains haunted by the traces of her former self. She's still pretty, still gives off an aura of taste and wealth, and can't shake the immediate distaste she has for most of what she sees as Ginger's chosen lifestyle.  So she calms her frayed nerves in glass after glass of Stoli, hands shaking as she struggles to convince herself that her life in the 1% will somehow go on.  Of course, Blue Jasmine isn't a straight adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire, more of a loose working with time tested material.  Allen's version is very much of the here and now, a cold sweat instead of a humid, murky bit of Southern Gothic.  The sexual hang-ups and repression of the mid-20th century exchanged for a recession-era portrait of a woman who tried to look the other way - like so many politico trophy wives and Wall Street spouses before her.  
 Jasmine's story is told in temporal jumps and flashback. Time passes, and we're made privy to the events leading to her fall via surging memories that seem to break through the character's own consciousness. The slightest hint of the wrong thing and she's sent spiraling back to a moment when things were a certain way, only to find herself shaken into the present, still carrying on the same conversation.  The film's rhythms are a bit difficult to grasp at in its opening scenes, and though the pattern eventually finds its stride, something about Allen's approach to the narrative and tone leaves the story uneven and, more often than not, a bit unsatisfying.  At plot-level, Blue Jasmine is rather a disappointment.  The film belongs to Blanchett, and her mesmerizing performance is what keeps the story from drowning in its own tedium.  She's phenomenal here, discarding her collected red carpet presence to become a woman visibly crumbling. She speaks in optimistic fits and starts, rapidly swings between body language closed and open, stares blankly with an intensity reminiscent of Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence.  Allen allows her to do her thing, steps away and lets the actress treat the camera like a working part of her character's delusions.  She's brilliant and sad, perfectly complimented by Sally Hawkins' reprisal of her Happy-Go-Lucky character's plucky naivete.
 Both actresses are bound for recognition come awards season, and between the two of them they make Blue Jasmine a film well worth watching.  Blanchett is shakingly impressive, and she manages to make Jasmine's struggle into an actual tragedy where it could have easily been mined for comic, fish-out-of-water fodder.  This is a more dramatic Allen than we've visited with lately, and though the film still possesses a laugh-worthy levity at points, the gravity of the Jasmine's situation takes hold again and again as a sort of embittered, bleeding punchline.  Though the story at times seems too predictably built to exploit the extreme class discrepancies between the two sisters, and to construct relative caricatures of affluence and what it deems "regular folk" (Ginger and her fiance seem displaced from the Jersey Shore), Blue Jasmine transcends its meager storyline to become a big, absorbing, emotionally devastating piece of work.  You won't say it was pleasant, you may not want to revisit it, but you'll walk away raving about the caliber of its actors.

5 comments:

  1. Can't wait to see this! Been hearing good things about Cate Blanchett's performance.

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    1. She's fantastic in it. Heard a lot of mixed talk about the film in general, but her performance is something I think we can all agree on.

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  2. Great review. I agree, you can't really say this movie makes for a pleasant experience, but I loved it all the same. Blanchett is surely the front runner for Best Actress at this point, but I really do hope Hawkins manages some awards attention as well.

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    1. If she's not the front runner, than the Academy is surely cray.

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  3. I have been reading about the connection between this and a Streetcar Named Desire. I guess I should really see that movie soon. Very nice review

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