Movie Review - Blue Jasmine

Cate Blanchett and Alec Baldwin
in Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine"
Full disclosure, I am a Woody Allen fan. I wouldn't say that I'm an apologist for the veteran screenwriter and director, but I am likely to defend him, even for his less than acceptable fare, though no defending is needed here. Blue Jasmine might need some protection from people like Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune who says the film is more of a rip of A Streetcar Named Desire with Cate Blanchett in the Blanche DuBois role. She is in fact Blanchett DuBois. Yes, Phillips is right. This movie is a rip of the Tennessee Williams play-turned-film, but, in this case, that's okay. Allen loves Jazz music, and one tenet in Jazz is the ability to riff on things. That's what Blue Jasmine is. It's a riff, and it works because the writing and editing is sharp and focused, and the performances are solid, particularly Blanchett who is just a knockout.

Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth and The Aviator) plays Jasmine, a woman who comes to live with her sister Ginger, played by Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky and Submarine) and her future brother-in-law, Chili, played by Bobby Cannavale (The Station Agent and Win Win). They live in a low-rent apartment in San Francisco. It's quite the shell-shock for Jasmine who is more accustomed to posh and opulent, Manhattan living, which is essentially the premise of A Streetcar Named Desire. What the Elia Kazan film did in 1951 was not show Blanche's life prior to her arrival at her sister's place. Woody Allen, however, does show us Jasmine's life prior to her arrival at Ginger's house.

Allen shows that posh living in Manhattan and integrates it like flashbacks but also as a concurrent storyline that's just as powerful as what Jasmine is doing in San Francisco. That storyline did not have me thinking Blanche DuBois. It had me thinking Ruth Madoff, the wife of Bernie Madoff, and Allen takes on the issue that was crucial to the case against Ruth Madoff. What did she know? When did she know it and how complicit was she in her husband's corporate and white-collar crimes?

As I watched this storyline where Blanchett played an exaggerated version of Ruth Madoff, I had thoughts of the TV series The Good Wife. In The Good Wife, Julianna Marguiles plays Alicia Florrick, the wife of a man who commits a crime, which separates the two and forces Alicia to start over with nothing and have to rebuild her life. Here, Jasmine is the wife of Hal Francis, the Bernie Madoff equivalent, played by Alec Baldwin (The Cooler and It's Complicated), whose crimes separate him and Jasmine, forcing her to start over with nothing and have to rebuild. The difference is that Alicia is successful whereas Jasmine is not.

Going back to the question of what did she know, Jasmine might not have known about her husband's crimes because she chose not to know or, as is repeated in the film, "look the other way." This is evidenced in the opening scene where she demonstrates looking the other way or basically ignoring people or things about people for whatever selfish reason. That opening scene is Jasmine rambling in an unbroken monologue where she's seemingly talking to a woman but is totally ignoring her.

Jasmine is unsuccessful in starting over because she makes mistakes, similar mistakes that led to her losing everything the first time. Besides still being a snob, she's Allen's fictionalized version of Jackie Siegel, the subject of the documentary The Queen of Versailles (2012). She's still wrapped up in materialism, but more importantly she's judgmental of people if they don't have wealth and status. Yet, she isn't judgmental or is more attracted to a person if they do. She attempts to position her sister Ginger into doing the same, which leads her down a wrong path too.

Despite being a tragedy, this movie is written by Woody Allen who is a brilliant comedian, a very smart one. It's no surprise that there are plenty of jokes from beginning to end to carry the audience through it. The initial humor comes in the form of taking a pampered princess like Jasmine and dropping her down and forcing her to get her hands dirty. But, it's not just her. A lot of the humor is built around a person being put into a situation that he or she doesn't like and watching as she has to endure out of politeness or decorum, or, worm her way out often in artful or really awkward ways.

Allen is just great with peppering in hilarious one-liners. It helps that he gathers a great supporting cast, including amazing comedians like Andrew Dice Clay as Augie or Louis C. K. as Al, a brief, love interest for Ginger. Bobby Cannavale who has had really good roles in comedic films and sitcoms like Will & Grace and Nurse Jackie continues to prove he's good at making us laugh or facilitating laughter with his character of Chili.

One scene in particular that Cannavale has in a grocery store where Ginger works is very funny and just crazy. Chili goes to Ginger's job to try to get back together with her. It seems like it's supposed to be a dramatic scene that feels like its comedy is unintentional. Yet, I realize as the scene progressed, Allen was intentionally using unintentional comedy to make the scene.

More great comedic moments or scenes include an antagonistic blind date, a death that's treated as glibly, a flirtatious dentist, played by Michael Stuhlbarg who along with Cannavale also appears on HBO's Boardwalk Empire, and proof that Jasmine is not the best babysitter. Yet, the movie has such terrific, serious beats. Hawkins has a particularly heartbreaking conversation on the phone toward the end. Alden Ehrenreich (Beautiful Creatures and Tetro) makes it known how striking a dramatic actor he is in truly moving moments. Peter Sarsgaard (Shattered Glass and An Education) is his usual, amazing self.

Yet, this is Blanchett's movie. It all boils down to her and she more than delivers. She runs away with the movie. She's all at once funny, fierce and fearful. Whether she's doing pratfalls, being depressed or rocking sweat stains under her armpits, she makes this movie work in wonders.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, language and sexual content.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 38 mins.


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