Sunday, January 26, 2014

Film Review: Blue Jasmine

"Blue Jasmine"  **** (out of ****)

Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine" (2013) is simply put a masterpiece. One of the legendary filmmaker's very best films. It took me two viewings to come to this conclusion, but, here is a movie which touches on so many themes, so effortlessly, so masterfully, it is the work of a brilliant director and an equally gifted actress.

The film has been compared to the real-life scandal involving Bernie Madoff and "A Streetcar Named Desire". Not exactly two things which have much in common, but, Allen's "Blue Jasmine" is so much more than that.

Here is a movie which resembles a world we live in. A socialite, named Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), moves to San Francisco to stay with her half-sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), since her husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin) has committed suicide while in prison. He was arrested for fraud, swindling people into making investments in phony companies.

This turns Jasmine's world upside down. Her rich elegant life is over. She is broke. The government has taken all of her assets. No more parties, social galas, European vacations, lavish gifts and beautiful homes. In her despair she turns to a sister she has never kept and felt better than.

"Blue Jasmine" becomes a story which deals with social class, the influence the rich have on our lives. We desire to be like them. We seek their approval. Jasmine is always criticizing Ginger's life. She did not approve of her ex, Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), whom Hal defrauded out of his life savings. And she does not approve of Ginger's current boyfriend, Chili (Bobby Cannavale), who she constantly calls a loser, since he cannot give Ginger a glamorous life, like Hal gave to Jasmine. This makes Ginger want to live up to Jasmine's standards, even though her life is perfectly fine.

Allen, known for using classic jazz in his movies, decided to use traditional New Orleans jazz. The soundtrack is comprised of music performed by Louis Armstrong, King Oliver and Jimmie Noone. It is mostly jazz and blues music. The music helps enforce another theme the film explores; everything will end badly. This is a cautionary tale. A warning. Jasmine is a wreck. She suffers a nervous breakdown. She walks on the streets of San Francisco talking to herself. She spaces out in the company of others, reliving moments of her marriage to Hal. Trying to put the pieces of their life together. As Allen plays with time signatures, shifting from past and present.

In this aspect the movie is cleverly edited. Certain words trigger flashback serving as a bridge between present day and the past. It is not unlike "Annie Hall" (1977) in this respect.

As the film progresses we learn more about Jasmine and her marriage and what her involvement may have been in Hal's schemes. Being rich and privileged Jasmine does what many of us do. She turns her head to any wrong doing. She lives in the lies of convenience. To acknowledge her husband is doing something wrong, engaging in illegal practices, would mean a change in her lifestyle. It is better to play ignorant and pretend she does not know what is going on and keep her home and jewelry. Jasmine, like many others, only cares about things when they directly affect us. When things disturb our lifestyle. Otherwise, someone else's problems are not your problems.

 But Jasmine thinks she can get her old lifestyle back when she meets Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard) a rich politician. He can provide Jasmine her old lifestyle. But will the secrets of her past catch up with her?

Much has been made of Cate Blanchett's performance. Every bit of praise is deserved. Blanchett has long been one of my favorite modern actresses. I would watch her read names from a phone book (remember those?). Film after film she has given wonderful performances. Watch her in her two Oscar winning roles; "Elizabeth" (1998) and Martin Scorsese's "The Aviator" (2004). See her in "Veronica Guerin" (2003), "Notes On A Scandal" (2006), "The Shipping News" (2001) or "The Good German" (2006) each and every film is great and her performance in each is memorable. Once again Blanchett delivers a memorable performance. Here she must go through a variety of emotions. She is not exactly a likable character but Blanchett fleshes her out and doesn't make us hate her. We understand her. Jasmine is not a stable character and Blanchett captures her fear, anxiety, confusion and denial. For her efforts she has been nominated for an Academy Award in the best actress category. She is the odds-on favorite to win. She has already won a Golden Globe for her performance as well.

Although not just Blanchett should be praised. Who knew Andrew Dice Clay could act? He plays a working-class guy who gets taken in by Hal and Jasmine's charms. Even after he and Ginger divorce, he cannot get over what happened. His life could have been different. He could have been successful. But his hopes and dreams are gone. It is too late in life for him to start over again. He would need a lucky break but fate so often is cruel. And Sally Hawkins is engaging playing a doe eyed sister who feels pressure to better herself in the presence of her sister.

Ginger and Jasmine represent two different social classes. Where Ginger and Augie lost everything, and Jasmine says she did too, she still manages to fly to San Francisco first class. When the working class say they have nothing, they mean they have nothing. When the rich say they have nothing, they mean they have only a few million.

"Blue Jasmine" is a very pessimistic movie. Bad things happen to good people. The world isn't fair. It beats us up. Sometimes we rebound, sometimes we don't.

Allen has had a roller coaster relationship with the critics and the public over the years. Some of the bad feelings thawed a bit after "Match Point" (2005) but grew again after "Scoop" (2006, which I have reviewed) and "Cassandra's Dream" (2007, which I have reviewed), two movies unfairly damned. Good will returned again with "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" (2008, which I have reviewed) and again with "Midnight in Paris" (2011, which I have reviewed). And now with "Blue Jasmine" Allen has proved he is not washed up. His critics were wrong. Allen still has powerful stories to tell. His screenplay is up for an Oscar.

I said I have seen this movie twice. The first time was opening day. The second time was on DVD. The difference in the experience I think had to do with me being alone. A lot of people think of this as a comedy or a semi-comedy. I don't. Watching the movie in a movie theatre, where people were laughing, put me at odds with the audience. On DVD, alone, I could experience the movie on my own terms. I didn't laugh watching this movie. I accept it as a dramatic film. That's what made the difference for me.

"Blue Jasmine" was one of the best films of 2013!