Sunday, August 25, 2013

Why See This...Blue Jasmine [2013]

Since 1966, Woody Allen has directed 43 features, amounting to almost one picture per year, an immense quantity for any one director. Best known for his wry romance comedies and quirky, rambling set of on-screen portrayals, Allen no doubt does comedy best.  But every once in a while, his writing take a dramatic turn.  The laughs come fewer and farther in exchange for a deeper study of human psyche and emotion, ala Match Point.  Not a typical Woody Allen movie some might say, but amidst a slew of signature comedies, these often stand as some of his most memorable work. Case and point with his latest feature, Blue Jasmine

Blue Jasmine, like Match Point is not a typical Woody Allen movie of recent memory.  The film lacks the outlandish faltery of last year’s To Rome with Love and the whimsical nostalgia of 2011’s gem, Midnight in Paris.  His newest movie is a swooning, cerebral drama detailing the likes of pain and loss, obsession and regret.  Blue Jasmine updates Tennessee Williams’ classic stage play “A Streetcar Named Desire.”  New Orleans swaps out for San Francisco and the 1950s becomes the present day. The nutty Blanche DuBois character, here called Jasmine, is marvelously depicted by veteran screen actress Cate Blanchett, who the Academy will no doubt recognize with at least a nomination.

After a public mental breakdown, Jasmine heads out to San Francisco to live with her sister, hoping for a fresh start  far from her glitzy life in New York that ended abruptly when her suave and successful husband’s (Alec Baldwin) wealth fell to various police charges, jail, and eventual suicide.  This happening also left Ginger (Sally Hawkins) and her ex-husband without any money too.  Greetings are particularly stiff when Jasmine and Ginger first see each other.  Despite having no money, Jasmine still holds her head high thinking she is too good for her sister’s simple life.  But she experiences a rude awakening as she is forced into a menial job as a dentist’s assistant to pay for computer classes in the hopes of studying fashion online.  Jasmine receives little warmth from the rest of Ginger’s life.  Ginger’s boyfriend Chili  was all set up to move into Sally’s apartment until Jasmine’s temporary stay hampers the plans.  Her explosive drama and utter ignorance for the rest of the world sets him off.  The brute, blue-collar Chili is played wonderfully by Bobby Cannavale, echoing Brando’s character brilliantly with sporadic tantrums and delightfully sinister comments always geared towards Jasmine. We meet Jasmine after the fall, but viewers peer into her past through an array of flashbacks to her time on top in NYC. Comprising of almost half the movie's running time, Allen seamlessly fits these flashbacks into the narrative without any sense of abruption. The glimpse into her life offers a look at the fairer yet probably worse days of her life as a queen on the Upper East Side.  In the present, we watch her struggle immensely to regain that life in some other form any way she can.
Appearing in nearly every frame of this movie, the film’s success undoubtedly rests on Blanchett’s shoulders.  She so perfectly captures the hysterical frenzies that is Jasmine, often times battling long takes and extensive close-ups and doing so flawlessly.  Not to be disregarded is the supporting cast of this film.  I have already given praise to the likes of Hawkins and Cannavale whom I hope the Academy also deservingly recognizes.  Allen also takes a bit of a casting risk deploying the chops of two well-to-do comedians Andrew Dice Clay and Louis CK despite their limited film experience.  Both take up their jobs as if screened veterans. 

Stepping away from his recent comedic stretch, Allen comes back with an intelligent and superbly acted film in Blue Jasmine.  We haven’t seen Woody go this serious since 2007’s Cassandra’s Dream, and Blue Jasmine is better. Not to worry as it still offers instances of comic relief; giggles they might just be and not altogether laughs.  Even in the deadpan, Woody can still deliver and Blue Jasmine is undoubtedly one his finest pictures in recent memory.


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