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Review: Blue Jasmine (2013)

Blue Jasmine (2013)

Directed by: Woody Allen

Premise: An upper-class socialite (Cate Blanchett) arrives in San Francisco to stay with her working class sister after losing all her possessions in a financial scandal. Although she puts on a face of calm and sophistication, it belies a coming nervous breakdown.

What Works: Woody Allen is a filmmaker whose output is remarkably varied. Films like Paris After Midnight are sweet and lighthearted while pictures such as Bullets Over Broadway play like farce. There is also a darker aspect of Woody Allen’s filmmaking seen in movies like Match Point. Blue Jasmine shares elements of Woody Allen’s other filmmaking styles but ultimately this is a film that is firmly in the darker corner of Allen’s body of work and it is one of the director’s better efforts in recent years. This is a story about a woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown, having lost everything in a financial scandal. The narrative bounces back and forth on the timeline, showing Cate Blanchett’s character in her life of comfort and wealth and how she copes with the implosion of that lifestyle. Something Woody Allen does especially well is to create characters who should be unlikable and then get the audience to feel empathy for them. That is certainly the case in Blue Jasmine. Cate Blanchett’s character is in many ways insufferable and yet the script and the actress make her into someone deserving of attention and perhaps even sympathy. Blanchett delivers a terrific performance in this film. At first her nervousness plays like the typically neurotic characters that are a staple of Woody Allen’s filmmaking but as Blue Jasmine develops it is clear that Blanchett’s has much more going on below the surface. She possesses a fascinating disconnect between who she actually is and who she imagines herself to be and the way her sense of privilege and false gentility come crashing down is both intriguing and tragic. Aside from Blanchett’s performance the film has an impressive pair of supporting performances by Sally Hawkins and Andrew Dice Clay. Hawkins has a very energetic screen presence and her character’s subplot is the fun part of Blue Jasmine. Her story also subtly parallels that of her sister as she aspires to a social upgrade in a fling with another man (Louis C.K.) but unlike her sister she learns to cope with the eventual disappointment. The most surprising acting contribution is provided by Andrew Dice Clay. Throughout the 1980s Clay was a notorious standup comic known for his crude stage act. In Blue Jasmine Clay gives a very convincing performance as a decent blue collar guy whose life was derailed by forces outside of his control and in many of his scenes Clay conveys a quiet sadness that is underlines the whole movie.

What Doesn’t: The most notable weak point of Blue Jasmine is the relationship between Blachett’s character and a widower played by Peter Sarsgaard. Both actors are fine in their roles and the romance is nice enough but it is obvious from their very first scene together exactly where this is all going and it gets there with a minimum of surprises. Blue Jasmine is also another entry in the trend of recession cinema, films that tell stories of people coping with economic hardship. Like a lot of films in that trend, Blue Jasmine is yet another film that frames economic problems in terms of its impact on the most privileged members of society. To its credit this movie draws specific attention to the main character’s sense of entitlement and frames that as the source of her mental problems, making this a slightly more subversive picture than other entries in this trend.

Bottom Line: Blue Jasmine is a Woody Allen picture but it is the rare kind of Woody Allen film that goes beyond the writer/director’s usual quirks and gets at something deeper. This movie may not be the kind of funny picture that audience’s typically associate with Woody Allen but in many respects it is something better.

Episode: #458 (September 29, 2013)