Thursday, August 22, 2013

Review - Blue Jasmine

Boasting an acrid, career-best star turn from Cate Blanchett, Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine is perfect late summer counter-programming for the discerning film goer; a cynically witted character study that proposes it's not the tragedies and crises (be they self-imposed or fateful) that define our lives, but our ability to put the past behind us and move on.
Jasmine (Blanchett) used to thrive on the vain luxury of her Manhattan high life. Constantly indulged by her wealthy businessman husband (Alec Baldwin), she blissfully turned a blind eye to his crooked dealings and extramarital affairs. We are reminded of this part of her life via frequent flashbacks, but presently, all the extravagant dining and dancing and diamonds and drinks have completely vanished from Jasmine's world. Well, except for the drinks.

Her husband having been nailed by the FBI for all his corporate theft, Jasmine is now penniless and leaning on the charity of her adopted sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) living in San Francisco. After years of hosting socialites from her ivory tower, middle class life on the coast proves an inhospitable adjustment for Jasmine. She doesn't get along with Ginger's boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale), is disgusted by her employment situation, must beat off the advances of men who she considers leagues below her, and suffers regular anxiety attacks. It's apparent from the very start of the film that this riches-to-rags trauma has done a number on her psyche.

While a star-studded cast and the quality of the writing are usually the major draws for a Woody Allen picture (and they certainly shine in this one), Blue Jasmine is Cate Blanchett's show to dominate. Her Jasmine is a mesmerizing creation: A brittle, vodka-guzzling, pill-popping, nervous wreck who recites the same vapid parlour talk over and over to herself in a delusional attempt to hang on to her former life. Blanchett's haughty elocution fits the character like a glove, whether she's disingenuously putting on airs for her moneyed friends or clumsily stomping on the other half with her backhanded comments. We can't help but watched transfixed as she crashes and burns.
The screenplay's dual timeline format helps draw the dramatic contrast between Jasmine's New York dream life and her San Francisco nightmare. The sometimes messy subplot involving Ginger's tryst with a cuddlier suitor than Chili (a fun bit part played by Louis C.K.) draws some focus from Jasmine's story, and may feel to some viewers like it would be more at home in one of Woody's ensemble pieces à la Hannah and her Sisters or Crimes and Misdemeanors. What it draws attention to, however, is a moral standard by which we can compare Jasmine's decisions. Both Jasmine and Ginger are capable of dishonesty, but it's the ability to repent, reconcile, and move on that measures their strength of character... or lack thereof. So-called “losers” Ginger and Chili can still be happy after all the crap that life puts them through, but Jasmine is doomed to keep swallowing Xanax and muttering to herself in public.

***1/2 out of ****

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