Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Blue Jasmine Proves the Power of Woody Allen still Exists, and this Darker Film (with some laughs) is One of his Best Films in Years

Blue Jasmine (4 1/2 out 5 Stars)
Directed and Written by Woody Allen (Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters)
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Bobby Cannavale, Andrew Dice Clay, and Alec Baldwin

Going to see a good Woody Allen film, is a cathartic experience.  Allen is one of longest, hardest working directors; he has been directing/writing for film since 1966, and prior to that he wrote for television in the 1950s and 60s.  Allen is one of those lasting directors from that time period who true to form creates a genuinely magical cinematic experience, and through his blend of the dramatic, and humorous he transports you into the minds of the neurotic. 

Jasmine is one Allen's darker films although I laughed loudest in the theatre.  The film centers around Jasmine (Blanchett), or Janette; she seems to have intentionally changed her name, from the one given to her by her adopted family.  Jasmine was whisked away by her husband Hal (Baldwin) in her junior year of college; she lives the life a socialite throwing parties for the elite, wrapped in only designer labels. Jasmine is used to the finer things in life, and has avoided her past to protect her status.

The film jumps between her time with her husband Hal, and the aftermath of Hal's Bernie Madoff ponzi schemes.  The film jumps back and forth between Jasmine's plush life in Manhattan (I love her line about being forced to live in Brooklyn) and living with her step sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco in an apartment she loathes from first glance.  Ginger is searching for her own happiness, through different relationships, although the sisters had two different paths.

Allen's script is one of his best in years, although I was a huge fan of Midnight in Paris, this is stronger. Allen uses the template of Streetcar Named Desire to define Jasmine as a Blanche type who definitely depends on the kindness of strangers; she goes a little crazy without a set path, you feel as though this woman has lost, or maybe never had a grasp on reality, as she is constantly trying to avoid the past from her days of being adopted to her failed marriage.

Allen has set up Ginger and both the men in her life as "Stanleys" the working class schlub, with whom she must settle.  Both Augie (Dice Clay) and Chili (Cannavale) are these bravado macho men whose softer, less financially solvent sides are laughable to Jasmine.  Meanwhile Ginger finds love with both of these men because of their genuine nature, although there is an uncertainty if she is ever truly happy with either, especially since even after she divorces Augie and is dating Chili she goes after Al (Louis C.K.).

Together this ensemble is brilliantly woven together, and play off each other so nicely, but the stand out is clearly Blanchett, she is electric in this role, and goes off and on the rails with ease.  Watching Blanchett act is a true art forml she makes you laugh, cry, hate, scream, and feel every emotion all with one performance.  There is this vulnerability to her as she goes "a little mad" but this madness is brought together layered to be something more twisted within her, and the performance speaks volumes to making this film even more successful.

Hawkins and Dice Clay are the other stand outs.  Hawkins Ginger is weak, timid, vulnerable, but like her step sister there is something about her which allows you to see every facet to her personality.  The film never states the cause for her divorce, but you can pieces of Jasmine in her as she too is trying to continue to find a man who will give her more, and be more for her.  Who knew Andrew Dice Clay could provide such depth; he has only a few scenes in the film, but I blown away by his performance, and stark contrast he portrays to the rest of the characters, he is the most real, and you feel as though he tried to be the best man he could for his family, but got caught up in each sister's web.

In Allen's last successful film, Midnight in Paris the theme was clinging to the past, in this film its clearly about avoiding and forgetting the past at all costs.  Jasmine attempts to move past Hal with Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard) through lies, which she truly believes to be true as she tells him about herself. There are also moments when Jasmine forgets key details about her relationship with Hal; she talks about him so lovingly, but their marriage was flawed.  Jasmine has lost her grip on reality because her comfort and the life she believed she had was taken from her.  There is something beautiful in the writing about walking away from the past, or her case having a spotty memory of her past because of her psychosis, which makes this film impactful.

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