Review: Woody Allen's BLUE JASMINE
Sunday, August 04, 2013
BLUE JASMINE is a nice addition to the list of the better films in Woody Allen’s latter day canon. Not as buoyant as MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, but not as uneven as the disappointing TOO ROME WITH LOVE. But this film is really carried by its lead actor. How much you will enjoy this movie depends on how much you like Cate Blanchett. I happen to like her a lot, and while the film has a fine, ensemble cast, it’s her movie from beginning to end and it wouldn’t stun me if she received some nominations for this performance come awards season. It’s not necessarily that it’s that great of a performance, but it is the kind of rich, emotionally charged one the award givers seem to like. And Woody does have a damn good track record of getting his lead actresses Oscar nominations.
Blanchett plays Jasmine (not her real name but a name she took on later in life), the ex- wife of a Bernie Madoff scale swindler named Hal, played by Alec Baldwin. When we meet Jasmine, she’s in crisis, out of options, and on the way to San Francisco to stay with her sister, Ginger. (Played by Sally Hawkins.) Jasmine’s lost it all and no longer gets to play at being part of the 1%. Ginger, on the other hand, has always been working class. You see here where the sparks might fly. To Allen’s credit, he explains that the sisters are not related by blood but were both adopted by the same parents. It’s a good device for making both the physical and personality differences between the two more believable. More often than not, when this kind of disparate sibling casting is done in films, it sort of takes me out of the illusion of reality. And it serves the story too, to a certain extent.
The biggest problem I had with the film was its over reliance on flashbacks. While the film has been publicized for its San Francisco setting (another change for Allen, who seems to be enjoying travelling and shooting around the globe as he makes his way through his 70s), I would guess that almost half of it was shot in New York City, where all the scenes between Blanchett and Baldwin and their world are set. A lot of the back-story really isn’t that necessary to tell. We can kind of figure out pretty quickly how the fortunes of the two and their relationship spiraled downward. They are entertaining enough, but not really needed. And there’s a kind of revelation near the end (I won’t spoil it) that doesn’t have half the dramatic effect I suspect Allen thought it would and which also felt a little superfluous. At 98 minutes, it isn’t so much that the flashbacks lengthen the film, but that they actually, at times, make it feel a bit longer.
Nevertheless, I was taken in by the film. It’s one of those Allen films that’s half comedy, half drama. Maybe more drama than comedy, in fact. Blanchett, as I’ve stated, was very good and her character’s story proves to be a bit more complex than I initially thought it would be. Hawkins is almost equally good and the rest of the ensemble is outstanding, though Louis C.K. is kind of wasted in a minor role that could have been played by anyone. Bobby Cannavale is fine as Chili, Ginger’s current boyfriend, a rough, working class guy who Jasmine of course characterizes as a loser. There really are few throwaway supporting characters. On the surface, you may see them as types, but Allen writes them and the actors play them with a level of depth behind them.
But the real surprise is Andrew Dice Clay as Augie, ex-husband of Ginger. As you can figure out, Ginger has a type and Augie isn’t all that different from her current love interest. Augie first appears as a rough guy, but eventually, when you find out the story behind their break up, he comes off as more sympathetic. And getting me to feel sympathetic for the Dice Man is really an accomplishment for both Allen and Clay.
Overall, I really enjoyed it. The problem with Allen, as always, is that even when he makes a really good film (which I think this is), it’s always going to be compared less favorably to the masterpieces of his youth. I think the trick is to see a contemporary Allen film and imagine it being made by an unknown, up and coming indie filmmaker, free of all the baggage (positive and negative) that accompanies Allen. (Easier to do when he’s not in the film himself, which is the case here.) Made by someone I think a film like BLUE JASMINE would be regarded as a rousing success and the work of a filmmaker with a lot of promise. You may not feel the need to rush out and see this in the theatre, but it’s definitely worth your consideration when it hits DVDs and streaming services.