8/29/2013 - Woody Allen does A Street Car Named Desire with Cate Blanchett playing the fluttering woman in need of the kindness of strangers in Blue Jasmine, a movie that is both aggravating and engrossing.
Jasmine (Blanchett) is a well-dressed woman who chats about her life, which we can glean is comfortably upper-class and appropriately sophisticated, to her seat mate on a plane. But another five to 10 minutes in and we start to have a clearer picture: Jasmine changed her name years earlier from Jeanette, the husband and the well-heeled life that came with him are gone and the chat was more of a monologue that another human being just happened to be present for. Having recently suffered from a breakdown of some kind, Jasmine, as we soon see, will talk about her life to anyone and to no one, which she does — telling, to no one, the same story about meeting her husband as she did on the plane — while sipping vodka and waiting for her sister to return to the sister’s apartment. With the rich life gone, Jasmine has come from New York City to San Francisco to live in a small apartment with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), and Ginger’s two young sons. Ginger’s financial situation is also perilous; neither she nor her ex-husband, Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), have much in the way a financial cushion, in part, we’re told, because of something that Hal (Alec Baldwin), Jasmine’s husband, did with money he was supposed to invest for Ginger and Augie. Now, Ginger is dating a new man, Chili (Bobby Cannavale), whose prospects aren’t much better than Augie’s and who is anxious that Jasmine get out of Ginger’s house so he can move in. He sees Jasmine as being in his way to getting on with his life with Ginger. Jasmine, meanwhile, thinks Chili is, well, a Stanley Kowalski that Ginger should scrape off.
In flashbacks, we see Jasmine’s past life with Hal —which includes a stepson, Danny (Alden Ehrenreich), who seems to have vanished — as she tries to figure out her future, clinging to the idea that she’ll become an interior decorator and later dating Dwight (Peter Saarsgard), a widower she meets at a party.
Around Oscar time, you’ll usually see some discussion of the idea of Best Acting versus Most Acting. I specifically recall the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast spending some time on that last year. Cate Blanchett is fascinating in this movie, I couldn’t not watch her, often to the exclusion of everybody else in the scene. I wanted to see what she was going to do next, wanted to know more about what she was thinking, how she was really processing what was happening. And I could see these things because she, like the movie in general, was showing me all the work, giving me a step-by-step look at how it was doing the plot and character development things it was doing. There are some performances where you will say “it looks effortless.” Here, I’m getting a look at all the effort. Sure, maybe there’s some Best Acting going on, but there is a lot of Most Acting happening as well. She is doing a Thing (and that Thing is Katharine Hepburn doing Vivian Leigh’s Blanch DuBois, through the filter of, I don’t know, the Countess from early seasons of The Real Housewives of New York). But of course, Jasmine is also doing a Thing. There is no “real Jasmine.” Even as we watch flashbacks of her grand life, she is playing a role in a universe she designs — one where her husband’s many flaws are deliberately ignored. She isn’t so much giving a performance, she is a performance. So Blanchett, playing an unsubtle character who is, we realize, barkingly mad, is also barkingly unsubtle. But, that’s fine? Or it’s part of what she’s doing? I can’t tell you. I can say that I went back and forth, while watching this movie, between hating it a lot and being completely transfixed.
Everything in Blue Jasmine is conscious, or at least it feels it. The casting of Clay, for example, to play Stanley #1 feels like a stunt — but he’s also pretty good at it. I feel like I know that guy, the disappointed and bitter Augie who, in flashbacks, thinks he’s finally caught a break. But he also exists as a symbol and as a device to move the story along, like a pigeon poop plop of deus ex machina that smears all over the windshield of the end of this story.
This movie combines all the Woody Allens of recent years: the whimsically literary Woody Allen of Midnight in Paris, the moral message Woody Allen of Match Point, the hot mess Woody Allen of To Rome with Love, the straining Woody Allen of You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. I mean, yes, none of these is the shut-up-please-shut-up Woody Allen of Melinda & Melinda, but still it’s an aggravating blend of the best and worst of Allen’s tendencies.
So what to make, in the end, of Blue Jasmine? Normally, I wouldn’t recommend that you rush out to see a movie that, while I watched it, made me roll my eyes and hate on it for big chunks of time. But I’m going to say, yeah, see it. See it, be aggravated, be aggravated with me because I didn’t get the thing that made it awesome, be aggravated with the person you see it with because they won’t shut up about how awesome it is even when you feel cheated and exhausted by it. Argue about it; I’ve been arguing with myself — not, you know, out loud like Jasmine but internally, where monologuing should sometimes stay — since I’ve seen it. Since I started writing this review, even. So, even when you don’t love this movie, even when you don’t like this movie, you can’t say it isn’t interesting, and, this summer, interesting is good enough to make something worth your money. B-
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, language and sexual content. Written and directed by Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine is an hour and 38 minutes long and distributed by Sony Classics