A darker Woody
Blue Jasmine delves deep into upper-class angst
Posted: August 23, 2013 at 3:34 a.m.
Woody Allen has returned from his years’ long European sabbatical, but still isn’t quite ready to commit to New York again. After cinematically touring some of the great cities in Western Europe - London, Paris, Madrid, Rome - he’s back in the United States and has made Blue Jasmine, perhaps one of the more intriguing noncomedies of his career.
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Part of the success of the film is the way in which it teeters on the edge of comedy without ever quite plunging in. The plot, which involves the deposed wife of a dishonored Bernie Madoff-type,bankrupt and exiled to live with her low-brow, working-class adopted sister in San Francisco, sounds like a standard high-concept Hollywood pitch, something you could easily see helping to resurrect Reese Witherspoon’s career, the classic blue-blood fish out of water bit. But Allen isn’t after laughs, per se; he digs in past the three-act flim-flam and brings us something a good deal more dark and cunning.
When we first meet Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), she’s narcissistically talking the ear off an unfortunate older passenger sitting next to her in the first-class section of her San Francisco-bound flight. It seems as if her former husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), a high-finance whirligig whose fantastic wealth and success was made entirely by ripping off his investors, has left her completely high and dry upon his arrest and eventual suicide. With nowhere else to run, Jasmine moves in with her bedraggled sister, Ginger (Sadie Hawkins), whose first husband Augie (Andrew. Dice. Clay!) was one of the investors Hal swindled and left bankrupt.
Ginger is now with Chili (Bobby Cannavale), another blue-collar Stanley Kowalski-type who works as an auto-mechanic and immediately tries to set up Jasmine with one of his unassuming, loser friends (Max Casella). Driven to drink endless vodka martinis and popping Xanax like Pez to stave off her panic at-tacks, Jasmine has to endure the further humiliations of finding a paying job, learning how to use a computer and avoiding having to deal with the great tragedy of her life, which we are shown in a series of ironic juxtapositions, jumping back to moments from her marriage with Hal in their Hamptons mansion or Park Avenue apartment.
In one key scene, Jasmine takes Ginger’s two roundfaced boys (Daniel Jenks and Boston Rush) out for pizza while their mother meets up with a sweet-seeming man (Louis CK), of whom Jasmine much more approves. The scene starts as a bit of a lark: Jasmine, with her expensive clothes and dedicated makeup, baby-sitting these two rough and ready boys, but it’s not long before the scene turns more serious. Jasmine starts telling them about her breakdown (“You must have heard of Prozac and Lithium,”she says to the stunned boys), and eventual turn to “Edison’s medicine” when she had electro-shock therapy.
For all her pomp and circumstance, Jasmine is clearly unwell. When she meets Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard), an appropriate sort of wealthy man who works in the Embassy, she lies about her past entirely, dooming the relationship with a poison pill before it even begins. Her life with Hal was all about looking the other way, from her husband’s extreme, obscene wealth, to his succession of affairs, to the point now where she simply can’t bear to look at the true circumstances of her life without lapsing into a kind of fugue state, leaving her jabbering on a sidewalk by herself.
Needless to say, Jasmine is a difficult role and Allen - whose famously varied and eclectic casting steps up a few notches here (I repeat: Andrew Dice Clay!) - has found the perfect conduit for his heroine. Blanchett plays her like a cross between RoseSayer and Blanche DuBois, a woman used to the finer things in life who simply can’t accept not being in the upper stratum of society.
Longtime fans of Allen can attest there can be no sweeter job in all of cinema than being his location scout (Susan Silas, in this case). From the Hamptons retreats to breathtaking Bay Area manses, the film is littered with the kinds of real estate porn that make city dwellers swoon. Here again, though, Allen isn’t just populating his film with gorgeous urban architecture, he wants us to experience the difference, the great, gulfing chasm between the super-wealthy and the little people.
Allen, with his sly intellectualism and penchant for brainy neurosis, could never be confused with a man of the people, channeling blue-collar fears and resentments in any kind of naturalist manner, but because he is using the conceits of his considerable comedy chops to make his points, he manages to make this whole thing work.
It’s indeed noteworthy that the only characters who seem the least bit honorable and honest are the very ones of whom Jasmine is most disdainful. She spends much of the movie bad-mouthing Ginger’s choices in men, but not until near the end does Ginger point out to her that she married one of the worst men in the world. Touche.
Blue Jasmine 89 Cast: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Bobby Cannavale, Peter Sarsgaard, Louis CK, Andrew Dice Clay, Max Casella Director: Woody Allen Rating: PG-13, for mature thematic material, language and sexual content Running time: 98 minutes
MovieStyle, Pages 33 on 08/23/2013