11 September 2013

Review: Blue Jasmine


Ruthless tycoons have been a fixture in recent years with men like Bernie Madoff building corporate conglomerates with other people's money. Less seen in news coverage are the wives left behind after the arrests are made. Jasmine French serves as a challenge for Woody Allen and Cate Blanchett in basing a film around a woman who would be (rightfully) scorned by others and trying to make audiences see things from her perspective, make her feel real.

Jasmine, formerly Jeanette, lives in the lap of luxury after falling in love with Hal (Alec Baldwin) at Martha's Vineyard. Their story is a romantic one scored to "Blue Moon", as she tells it anyway. Jasmine doesn't know much of Hal's business, but she doesn't question when he presents her with papers to sign and lavish gifts. She seems set for life... until Hal winds up in prison on charges of fraud.

Jasmine sinks low and quickly after the money dries up. Left with no alternative, she moves to San Francisco with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Jasmine is immediately out of her element in San Francisco, Ginger's over-active kids and ex-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay). Jasmine never really got along with Ginger before and her stressed relationship with her sister takes on new obstacles as Jasmine deems current beau, Chili (Bobby Cannavale recreating Kowalski down to the grungy sleeveless shirt), beneath Ginger.

Paralyzed with anxiety about her future, Jasmine takes a job at a local dentist's office, attending night school in the hopes of doing something substantial with her life post-divorce. Ignoring the past is harder than Jasmine thinks and staying with her sister leads to more discord than she anticipated.

Interspersed with Jasmine's new life in San Francisco are vignettes of Jasmine's former life of luxury in New York City with Hal. Both stories advance forward so each little piece revealed illuminates an aspect of Jasmine's life we weren't privy to earlier. As  the flashbacks fade away, Jasmine seems trapped within the memories, talking to no one and everyone around her. As Jasmine becomes more distant from the cushy life she once had, that the highlights in her hair fade and the number of vodka/Xanax cocktails increase. Cracks continually appear in the veneer as Jasmine confesses to her sister "there's only so many traumas a person can withstand until they take to the streets and start screaming."

It would have been all too easy for Blanchett to turn in a cardboard cut-out of the spoiled rich wife that we have seen in the media, but she grounds Jasmine in real struggle to find something, anything beside her trophy wife existence. There is absolutely no cap on how low Blanchett is willing to go and that fierce commitment to draw out the truth of her character makes Jasmine one of the truly spectacular parts of the last decade.

Whether Jasmine was implicit in her husband's dealings we're never quite sure and Allen isn't telling. The aging director takes no shortcuts with the circle of characters. The conflicts are honest, sometimes painfully so when family gets involved and the cast is game for it. The movie is not without its comedic moments, though, sometimes the biggest gut laughs of Blue Jasmine come from the most awkward moments.

Woody Allen is noted for her excellent ensembles and Blue Jasmine is completely stacked with talent. Alec Baldwin exudes smarminess effortlessly, Sally Hawkins proves an excellent backboard for Blanchett to bounce insults off of and, most surprisingly, Andrew Dice Clay brings a vulnerability to a man wounded by the after effects of Jasmine's reckless lifetstyle.

To Rome with Love was a misstep, but Blue Jasmine puts Allen right on par with Midnight in Paris for some of the best movies of this still early decade.