Friday, September 13, 2013

BLUE JASMINE (2013)

Written & Directed by Woody Allen



Where & When: AMC Livonia 20, Livonia, MI. August 25, 2013  11:30 AM



The films of Woody Allen have become well-known hit or miss affairs. His annual output tends to fall either as charming cinematic delights ("Hannah and Her Sisters", "Bullets Over Broadway", "The Purple Rose of Cairo") or routine underdeveloped clunkers ("Shadows and Fog", "The Curse of The Jade Scorpion", "Hollywood Ending"). Thankfully, even Mr. Allen's lesser works are at least somewhat watchable although last year's offering, "To Rome With Love" was just barely. With the disappointing memory of  "Rome" still relatively fresh in my mind, I didn't know what to expect of the latest production,  "Blue Jasmine". I am very happy to report that this dramatic comedy, with elements of "A Streetcar Named Desire" and the Bernie Madoff case, has the writer/director back on the right track. The magnificent Cate Blanchett plays the title character, an over privileged trophy wife whose cushy existence is pulled out from under her and becomes desperate to find a way back in to that world.

We first meet Jasmine rambling endlessly at her seatmate on a flight to San Francisco to live with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Broke and in disgrace, she has to put some distance from her former life in New York after her investor husband (Alec Baldwin) has been exposed as the ringleader of an elaborate Ponzi scheme. Jasmine's relationship with Ginger has been complicated over the years as she feels that her working-class sister is just too far beneath her social standing and Ginger's poor taste in men hardly helps matters. Another sticking point is that Ginger and her ex-husband (Andrew "Dice" Clay) lost their entire lottery winnings to the investment fraud due to Jasmine's encouragement.

Despite the less than five-star accommodations and facing the unpleasant task of having to seek employment, Jasmine continues to flaunt the trappings of her previous fortunes. First-class plane tickets, Chanel jackets and a Birkin handbag (that is held like a shield) are used as an attempt to save face and indicate that her unfortunate, tragic situation is only a temporary setback. Cracks in the armor soon reveal her fragile mental state as Jasmine drifts off, reliving her posh life before the scandal (seen through a series of flashbacks) that leaves her confused and loudly muttering to herself. She struggles to keep it together with alcohol and medication as her only true comfort from the stress.

After reluctantly working as a receptionist for a lusty dentist (Michael Stuhlbarg) until she can acquire a real job as an interior designer, Jasmine works on her sister to drop her brutish, auto-mechanic boyfriend, Chili (Bobby Cannavale) and find someone more worthy that will take proper care of her. Ginger meets a potential new man (Louis CK) at a party while Jasmine is introduced to a wealthy, aspiring politician (Peter Sarsgaard). She is swept off her feet and quickly engaged but Jasmine is haunted by her past which endangers her future happiness and return to a comfortable lifestyle.

"Blue Jasmine" is one of Mr. Allen's strongest scripts in years (including his recent Oscar-winner, "Midnight In Paris") and seems more engaged here than when attempting to do a wacky farce (like "To Rome") as the comedy feels dusted off and recycled. The director's wit works best now when it comes more organically from the plot filled with melodramatic situations. The film perfectly serves as a humorous reminder that greed and self-absorption has become shockingly more accepted in our society, to the point that when these white-collar criminals are caught, they behave like terribly, misunderstood victims while some of the actual casualties of their corruption feel empathy for them.

Far from modern or liberated, Jasmine is a relic of the past; the pampered wife that never bothered her husband with silly questions involving business or finances in exchange for the occasional sparkly gift to show how much she's appreciated. Ms Blanchett is front and center throughout most of the film and deftly conveys Jasmine's manic energy and outrageous pathos. Her character is not particularly likable or sympathetic yet the actress is able to make you feel actual compassion for this narcissistic society matron. The British Ms Hawkins is another bright spot and convincingly delivers Ginger's Noo Yawk honk. You may expect the comedians on board to bring their expert skills here (and they do) but surprisingly Louis CK and Mr Clay are also quite effective in their dramatic moments.

With "Blue Jasmine". Woody Allen hasn't broken any new ground as he's reliably delivered what he's been doing for well over fifty years. What's here is what he does at his very best; a compelling mix of dramatic histrionics and robust hilarity.