Thursday, August 22, 2013

Movie Review: Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine"

Woody Allen's new film, Blue Jasmine is a disturbing, engaging, and finally dispassionate study of a woman buckling under the weight of social pressures. Jeanette "Jasmine" Francis (Cate Blanchett), the once privileged social matron reduced to a poorhouse state after her corrupt Wall Street executive husband (Alec Baldwin) is imprisoned, talks to herself.

When she indulges in her lonely diatribe, chatting with unseen friends at a party, on the street, or alone in a room, director Allen studies her with such cinematic scrutiny, we are forced to watch what we would all chose to ignore - the unfortunate soul talking to themselves. The public reaction to a person carrying on a conversation with themselves is treated here as if it's a disease one might catch. Strangers vacate her space and gawk as if viewing a leper.

Otherwise, for a pill popping, martini slugging woman whose adulterous husband's downfall forces her from the social elite to the dregs of society - from a posh New York City penthouse suite to a cramped low-rent San Francisco apartment - Jasmine is coping. She heads west and as if stepping off a trolley car named Desire, moves in with her sweet lower class sister who has a Stanley Kowalski-like boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale). With vague unrealistic hopes of a professional career, she enrolls in a night class to learn how to use a computer and accepts a lowly position as a dentist's receptionist.

She walks a tightrope over this Tennessee Williams scenario while spilling little doses of sanity, mostly revealed in her lonely conversations. Her bubbles burst, her half-baked dreams dissipate, and like Streetcar's Blanche Du Bois, her plans for a future renewed are terrorized by her complete inability to adjust to a social order that is independent of a class system. Without luxury to define her, she is a shell of a human being overwhelmed by the substance abuse that threatens to consume her. Her luxurious presence draped in top of the line fashion wear in her sister's modest apartment seems forever on the verge of departure, as if she is only waiting on a cab to whisk her away to a higher income bracket.

Blue Jasmine is a completely watchable, cringe-inducing blackest of comedies with a powerhouse performance by Cate Blanchett who consumes every scene as if in a battle for dominance over the mundane images that threaten her. The supporting cast is uniformly excellent including shock comic Andrew Dice Clay as Jasmine's scorned ex-brother-in-law, and Sally Hawkins as her naïve Stella-like sister. Javier Aguirresarobe's cinematography has a small, postcard appeal.

But the film is lacking a groundwork of history that justifies Jasmine's mental unraveling. Is it her highly publicized social downfall that causes her to talk to herself (her only genuine social taboo), or has she always been flirting with schizophrenia? It's a question never answered, as if she is as anonymous as the stranger you see talking to themselves on the street.

In the end I think Woody Allen is doing little else here than handing over the 21st Century Blanche Du Bois on a silver platter and asking us to marvel at the delicacy and fragility of the human mind. His delving into Jasmine's naked mentality borders on luridness as his imposing camera probes deep into the act of talking to one's self, hoping to reveal anything left of sanity. It's a cold little film with a defiant warm glow that blurs the line between comedy and tragedy.

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