Sunday, September 1, 2013

Blue Jasmine

Blue Jasmine (2013) Starring: Alec Baldwin, Cate Blanchett, Louis C.K., Bobby Cannavale, Andrew Dice Clay, Sally Hawkins, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg. Directed by Woody Allen. Screenplay by Woody Allen. Produced by Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum, and Edward Watson. Run Time: 98 minutes. Color. U.S.  Drama.

I look forward to seeing Woody Allen films the same way people used to look forward to Star Wars films. I know that I’m going to be taken somewhere I will never probably go, or in the case of his latest, Blue Jasmine, ever want to go.

Blue Jasmine is really more of a character study of Jasmine Francis (Cate Blanchett), the former wife of a Bernie Madoff-type, Harold "Hal" (Alec Baldwin), who has to come to grips with the aftermath of her husband’s years of cheating, not only his investors, but also on her. Broke and with no other place to go, she goes to live with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), in San Francisco. Relations between the two are interesting. They are not blood, both having been adopted by the same parents, but born from two other couples. Ginger was once married to Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), a handy man who had a dream that Hal managed to steal away. Jasmine and Ginger have landed on different socio-economic planes and Jasmine doesn’t really want to spend time with her, that is, until she needs her.

Jasmine (Blanchett) and Hal (Baldwin) Francis during happier days.
This is not a comedy, really by any stretch. The funniest moments come from the inappropriate talk Jasmine has with Ginger’s two sons, Matthew (Daniel Jenks) and Johnny (Max Rutherford), when she babysits.

As seems to be true of Woody Allen’s writing, there are lots of really interesting supporting characters and as also seems to be the usual of Allen’s directing, he gets really good performances out of them. The film is cast with people you wouldn’t think you’d see in a Woody Allen film, Andrew Dice Clay for example. I know the two have stand-up comedy in common, but Clay’s humor and persona are 180 degrees away from the bits Allen used to do during his performance days. But Augie is someone you feel sympathy for and a lot of that has to do with Clay’s performance.

Ginger (Hawkins) and Augie (Clay) visit Jasmine and Hal.
Allen always seems to get really good performances out of his actors.
Louis C.K., who, like Allen, or at least used to, seems to draw from his own life for his style of comedy, plays Al, a man Ginger meets at a party. C.K. is a surprisingly engaging actor and you think he’s the magic ingredient that will turn her life around, but, like so many of the men portrayed here, he ultimately lets her down.

Louis C.K. plays Al, who for a time is good to Ginger.
I could go down the line and reel off actors and parts and tell you what a really good job each of them does. For example, Baldwin is so at ease playing Hal, which seems like the dark side of the Jack Donaghy character he played on 30 Rock throughout that series’ run. It’s almost like he’s not acting.

Hal Francis (Baldwin) is a con-man, swindler and cheater.
But the movie belongs to Cate Blanchett and I’m not surprised to hear Academy buzz about her performance. It is the kind of strong performance that is award worthy and the character is of the type that usually does. The last film I’d seen her in was Hanna (2011) and I thought she was really good as Marissa Wiegler, Hanna’s tracker. I can honestly say that her character got what she deserved with an exclamation point. The problem with Blue Jasmine is that there is no punctuation at the end. Jasmine certainly gets what she deserves, but we leave before the end of her story.

Kate Blanchett's performance makes Blue Jasmine worth seeing.
There are bits of dialogue that seemed forced, as if they have to be said rather than they would be said. Allen has always had a thing about talking about sex in his films. When Ginger sleeps with Al, they talk about the experience in ways that I really don’t think couples would. The same is true with Jasmine and Hal and Jasmine and Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard), a man with whom she builds a relationship based on lies.

The life she wanted and almost had. Dwight (Sarsgaard) kisses
Jasmine on the deck of his Marin County home.
The story moves back and forth, between flashbacks and present, and oftentimes Jasmine is caught in one of the flashbacks and still playing out a scene in the present. More than one person asks her if she’s talking to them, before moving away from her. Obviously, her past, like her Louis Vuitton luggage, is something she carries with her to this day. And no one will let her forget it, either. Half of the dialogue has to be Jasmine being reminded about all the wrongs her husband did, even by people who never met her husband, like Chili (Bobby Cannavale), Ginger’s current boyfriend.

The film and Jasmine’s life turn on a coincidence. I know you can say that her past life and her lies finally catch up to her, but Augie’s sudden appearance at that particular moment seems downright forced.  What is a guy on his way to work in the Alaskan oil fields doing walking by a posh jewelry store in San Francisco at just that precise moment? The film deserves better than to hinge on such a happenstance. In typical Allen writing, characters tend towards TMI and it is that trait that sinks Jasmine. Augie unloads on her and Dwight unloads her soon afterwards.

In the end, though, the film feels incomplete. We see Jasmine trying to right the sinking ship of her life. She is in a constant battle between her past and her present. Someone who has turned a blind eye in the past in exchange for wealth is someone who will lie to try to get it again. But when all is said and done, Jasmine seems left adrift. While she is certainly not a sympathetic character, her portrayal by Blanchett is so strong that I want to see what happens to her. Allen thankfully doesn’t make sequels, but I feel like there is an ending to this film that’s missing and I’m left hanging.

Jasmine seems set adrift at the end of the movie.
While Woody Allen is a favorite filmmaker of mine, this is not up to the level of his best works: Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters or even Midnight in Paris. But the film should be seen for Blanchett’s performance as the blue Jasmine.

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