Blue Jasmine (2013)

8 Sep

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I’m not sure I can necessarily write about Woody Allen’s latest film, “Blue Jasmine,” without even mentioning a similar type of film released just a couple months ago (not Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire,” of course, though the story of “Blue Jasmine” is probably more closely similar to that)—Noah Baumbach’s “Frances Ha.” That film was about a neurotic young woman trying to find a secure hold on life while practically on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I mentioned in my favorable review of that film that it reminded me in dialogue, acting, style, and tone of a Woody Allen screenplay and film. That’s not too far off here, because…well, “Blue Jasmine” is a Woody Allen film. Imagine Frances “Ha” Halloway aged a decade or two and having found a success in life, becoming materialistic and pampered and married to a Wall Street wizard…and is now having to face reality yet again, after everything has just hit rock bottom along with her.

How odd is it that I compare Baumbach favorably to Woody Allen when I would find that Allen has crafted a slice-of-life/character-study similar to Baumbach’s film…which in itself is similar to some of Allen’s best dramatic work? I don’t know, but I do know that I feel these two films are terrific, and they’d make a great double-bill with each other.

Nearing the age of 78, Allen’s styles haven’t changed much—neurotic characters, the old-school title font, the sharp dialogue, the music he likes, etc. But he shows he still has game in the art of filmmaking. As long as this guy continues to make films (and he has for several decades now), we know there are some truly original artists still at work here. And with “Blue Jasmine,” he has crafted one of the most thoughtful, effective films released this year.

The film stars Cate Blanchett in an Oscar-caliber performance, reminding us that she is still one of the very best actresses we have, as Jasmine, a disillusioned, indigent woman who is learning to face reality the hard way. Seen in flashbacks, we get an idea of what her original life was like, when she was married to wealthy Hal (Alec Baldwin) and living a great, acquisitive life in New York. We also learn in this present-day setting that Hal has been caught for illegal activities (and apparently not just cheating on his wife numerously, either) and has also committed suicide in his cell because he couldn’t handle facing a life sentence. The FBI has taken everything away, leaving Jasmine penniless and homeless.

Now, Jasmine has moved in with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins, wonderful here), in her San Francisco apartment. Ginger has never had anyone depend on her before, and Jasmine never needed her for anything until now. But Jasmine is not the greatest houseguest—in fact, she’s rather critical and doesn’t quite know when to keep her mouth shut. This is especially true when she judges Ginger’s apartment and constantly puts down Ginger’s current boyfriend, Chili (Bobby Cannavale). Though Chili may have his moments of rage, he is somewhat of an improvement over Ginger’s ex-husband, Augie (Andrew Dice Clay—yes, Andrew Dice Clay), and doesn’t necessarily deserve to be the butt of Jasmine’s unfavorable remarks.

Life goes on for Jasmine, and it’s something she isn’t prepared for. She has to go find a job, which she isn’t used to at all, and finding one is not easy. She does, however, get a job working as a receptionist for a dentist, but that doesn’t seem to last very long, as she’s an incompetent employee (and it also doesn’t help that the dentist she works for likes to hit on her until it’s the last straw for her—at least she knows the meaning of “sexual harassment”). Also, she’s not very good in social situations like she used to be—due to the events in her life, she has developed a habit of talking to herself without even being aware of it as she gets confused looks from passersby. That, and she’s still as ignorant and selfish as she was when she was rich, making her just a shallow, almost-unbearable woman to be around.

Now, don’t get me wrong—Jasmine is not a one-dimensional bitch, by any means. Because of the flashbacks and a few moments when she’s alone and trying to figure things out for herself, we see how and why she has become who she is and why her life is tragic. We can understand why she acts the way she does. That’s what makes “Blue Jasmine” an effective character-study and a convincing drama.

Cate Blanchett’s performance helps a great deal—she understands this character inside and out and is just excellent here. I hope she gets an Oscar nomination for this performance; she’s that good. And so is Sally Hawkins, who adds a great amount of depth to her role of Jasmine’s sister Ginger, who has her own experiences in life and love, not only with Chili, but also with a sound man she meets at a party, played well by Louis C.K. It’s a credit to Allen that he is still able to use familiar faces for surprising effect, and that’s especially true of the casting of Andrew Dice Clay, who is truly rock-solid here (especially near the end, when he gives a key speech to Jasmine about what’s going on).

Allen still has it. People may not believe it that much anymore, but Allen still has it. And I don’t even know what “it” is, but whatever “it” is, Allen has used it to good effect in “Blue Jasmine,” a nicely-done character piece.

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