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Friday, August 9, 2013
Head In The Rich Clouds, Soul In The Poor Dumpster
Blanchett as the title character in Woody Allen's comedy-drama "Blue Jasmine".
Sony Pictures Classics
Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com
"I'm an interior decorator," the haughty Jasmine (Cate Blanchett)
says during Woody Allen's well-crafted, quietly devastating comedy-drama "Blue Jasmine".
This is one of many lies Jasmine will tell during 98 minutes of class-line
excoriation by Mr. Allen, whose film feels much, much longer.
Set and shot in America's two most expensive cities, New York and San
Francisco, "Blue Jasmine" seeps into your bloodstream. For some it
will hit too close to home. The cumulative emotional force of Ms. Blanchett's
fine, unsettling performance punctuates an intense, uncomfortable
experience. Flavored with jazz, Mr. Allen's first love, "Blue Jasmine" is
about many things, including the contempt and hostility between rich and poor,
and the anguish men and women cause each other.
Chiefly though, Mr. Allen's bitter comedy is more a tale of two sisters than two cities: Park Avenue
socialite Jasmine and South Of Market working-class younger sister
Ginger (a charismatic Sally Hawkins), adopted by separate mothers, are on an
awkwardly level playing field in San Francisco. Jasmine has fled there
after turmoil in the marital Big Apple abode she and Hal (Alec Baldwin) share.
The sisters shakily coexist.
Jasmine swoops in from the high clouds in the film's opening image. The
image, a digital (read: artificial) plane -- one as fantasized and
artificial as Jasmine herself -- is so unreal, forming the initial
symbolism of a film unfolding entirely in
Jasmine's head. Poor Jasmine is a neurotic, pill-popping alcohol addict often
accused of "looking the other way" when trouble arises. The self-absorbed
Jasmine scolds Ginger for her choice in "loser" working class stiffs like Augie (a very good
Andrew Dice Clay) and Chili (a hilarious and intense Bobby Cannavale.) Yet
mega rich investor Hal (a Bernie Madoff stand-in) is responsible for changing the course of Ginger's life.
There's a blunt, unapologetic crudeness in the very trappings of "Blue Jasmine".
Its lack of establishing shots in its San Francisco locales aren't by accident.
Ginger's cramped South Van Ness Avenue apartment,
"homely", as Jasmine patronizingly calls it, looks earthy, as does the
city. Devoid of a summer sun, San Francisco is wondrously and grittily photographed by Javier Aguirresarobe with alternating textures of grain, golden honey or rough rock
akin to Alcatraz, not the gleaming jewel called the Golden Gate Bridge, seen at a
far distance in one shot, hidden away, as if afraid to look upon or serenade
some of this film's most pathetic creatures and hedonists.
Mr. Allen sets the left coast city as
the People's City and New York as its highfaluting airy counter-paradise,
flipping the Allen script on Manhattan and giving San Francisco interiors the
kind of warm Upper West Side gloss emblematic of some of Mr. Allen's
notable works. The contrast is a clever contrast of cultures, and a clash
between harsh reality and honesty (New York) and entitlement, pretension and
faux sophistication (San Francisco). That sentence will offend some even
though Mr. Allen stays away from the richest parts of San Francisco, save for
one brief scene of humiliation in the Marina District, an area of the city that
every San Franciscan who doesn't live there loathes. Mr. Allen draws the ironies
well, and calculates the positions of his players on his chessboard so well.
It's a joy to see but it's joy without smiles.
That "joy" has been imputed to the director, who has had to get funding abroad
to bring his last few films to the big screen, and "Blue Jasmine" is the first he's fully
shot in the U.S. in several years. ("Whatever Works", in 2009, was the
last.) For Mr. Allen as with a vast number of filmmakers, the costs of filming
domestically are prohibitive.
In "Blue Jasmine" Mr. Allen equivocates and editorializes about the working poor
with stereotypes about the lack of restraint (toward sex, pizza and
histrionics.) Yet the director pulls similar levers with the rich (alcohol, materialism,
serial cheating.) Chili speaks of archaeologists, and Mr. Allen is
that as he slowly, painfully digs beneath the surfaces of America's rich and
poor to find that -- what do you know? -- they aren't so
different as people at least, after all. Rich at heart, Ginger and Chili are
undoubtedly happier people than Jasmine and Hal. The former couple can at
least sleep comfortably and are
content to argue about bread-and-butter things. They are oblivious in a
way, to the demands of finance, it is, until rich people's deeds make them
self-conscious -- or do they make Jasmine self-conscious?
Meanwhile Jasmine's want is to absolve herself of guilt and cloak
herself in aloofness with musings about guilt-free donations to The Central Park
Conservatory. All told, Jasmine is a picture of immense self-denial, and
it's hard to discern if she's ever happy, even in the relatively few happy
moments "Blue Jasmine" offers.
Where "Six Degrees Of Separation" spotlighted the gulf between the New York City
rich and the faux sophisticate who wanted to cozy up to them, Mr. Allen's film
closes the gap but in reverse, with Jasmine believing her status elevates her
above her poor sister Ginger. The names of both characters are
appropriate, but in reality just one name sparkles. The reality of money,
class and trust are a backbone of this resolute, adult and thought-provoking
work. If the title "Blue Jasmine" seems like a contradiction it truly is.
In a scene where Jasmine scolds Hal for an affair with a teenager I couldn't
help imagining Mia Farrow shouting at Mr. Allen about his budding relationship
with her adopted teen daughter Soon-Yi Previn in the early 1990s. (Mr.
Allen later married Ms. Previn.) Earmarks of Mr. Allen's own life and
neuroses are, of course, a staple of his work, and in full swing here.
bundle of contradictions, Jasmine resists the idea of working for a living but
is employed at a dentist. She cares about appearances yet compulsively
babbles to herself in public and anyone within reasonable earshot. Jasmine
could be said to be mentally ill. The shocking reveal of "Blue Jasmine"
brings an agonizing conundrum that may account for her deeply-addled state of mind, a
post-traumatic stress disorder turning Mr. Allen's film into psychodrama.
Replete with flashbacks, the overall tone of "Blue Jasmine" lends itself to the
school of "Crimes And Misdemeanors" as tragicomedy and lesson in moral
equilibrium and ethics. Compared to recent Woody Allen films "Blue
Jasmine" is muted in showiness and farce but razor-sharp and clinical in the resulting weight
and effect of
characters' decisions. The film's final image is haunting, scary,
decimating, alarming enough to stay etched in your mind after the jazz-fueled
end credits cease. Mr. Allen has certainly decided that his recent film
honeymoons in Paris and Rome have come crashing to an end.
Also with: Peter Sarsgaard, Louis C.K., Alden Ehrenreich, Michael Stuhlbarg,
Tammy Blanchard, Max Casella.
"Blue Jasmine" is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association Of America for
mature thematic material, language and
sexual content. The film's
running time is one hour and 38 minutes.
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