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Blue Jasmine

2013 | 98 min | PG-13 | 2.39:1

Blue Jasmine


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Theatrical release date

 26 July, 2013
 27 September, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

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Blue Jasmine Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, August 7, 2013

Writer/director Woody Allen has been in a romantic mood lately. With the fantasy “Midnight in Paris” and the farce “To Rome with Love,” Allen was swept away by a golden European glow, scripting tales of life and love with his special neurotic stamp. “Blue Jasmine” isn’t a particularly friendly movie, returning the filmmaker to areas of psychological warfare and social discomfort that have informed his finest pictures. A satisfying blend of behavioral severity, “A Streetcar Named Desire” homage, and laughs, “Blue Jasmine” is distinctly Allen-esque, but dominated by Cate Blanchett’s stunning lead performance -- a masterful tightrope walk of delusion and deliberation that keeps the effort absorbing and darkly comic.

Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) is penniless after her lavish lifestyle is wiped out by the government when her investment banker husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), is convicted of massive fraud. Moving to San Francisco to stay with estranged sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), Jasmine arrives shell-shocked, reliant on meds and a steady stream of vodka to help her survive the day, forced to deal with a future of necessary employment to make a life for herself. Dismissive of Ginger’s low-income lifestyle and her nosy, beefy boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale), Jasmine makes a plan to study computers and take a day job as a receptionist, hoping to pull her life back together despite emerging mental issues. Meeting diplomat Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard), Jasmine spies an opportunity to return to a place of luxury she’s accustomed to, urging Ginger to disturb her matrimonial plans by dating a frisky audio technician (Louie C.K.). However, as her mind races back to the fractured past she’s idealized, Jasmine loses her grip on reality, with Ginger gradually coming to understand her sister’s poisonous ways.

With typical Allen economy, we learn almost everything there is to know about Jasmine in the opening five minutes of the movie. Seated on an airplane bound for San Francisco, we watch Jasmine chat up her seatmate on the flight, a patient old woman absorbing the lead character’s stream-of-consciousness ramblings, which initially suggests the appearance of friendly chatter between flyers. It quickly becomes apparent that Jasmine is actually holding the senior hostage, pinning her down with conversation that’s open about every facet of her life. This is the real Jasmine, a rambling wreck of a woman who can’t stop living in the past, clinging to memories with such a profound force, they often resemble reality to the haunted character, who occasionally carries on conversations in public that exist only in her mind. It’s the result of a nervous breakdown, with the remainder of “Blue Jasmine” exploring how the formerly affluent one copes with the brutal reality of destitution using weapons of judgment and alcohol to prevent genuine feeling from achieving contact.

This is a Woody Allen comedy after all, so there’s a reasonable expectation of jocularity, thought the splendor of “Blue Jasmine” is how well the helmer weaves lighter material with a deeply dark summation of the titular character’s tattered psychological profile. It’s a disquieting dance Allen’s choreographs with skill, cutting back and forth through time to contrast Jasmine’s former life of comfort with her current desperation, studying how she treated those closest to her, slyly dismissive of Ginger and her loutish husband, Augie (Andrew Dice Clay). There’s catastrophe as well, with Hal a Bernie Madoff-type figure dealing in suspicious monetary opportunities with the wealth of others, including Ginger and Augie’s recent lottery haul. The root of all evil lives up to its legacy here, with the toppling of Hal’s kingdom of greed staining Jasmine in ways that will never rub off -- her history used as a weapon by Chili to encourage additional meltdowns.

The feature is intimate with its characterizations, watching Allen mastermind a boomerang effect that finds Jasmine working her way through school, dealing with a depressing job at a wearying dental office, fending off advances from her lecherous employer (Michael Stuhlbarg), and tasting the sweet life again with Dwight, lying to her boyfriend about her past to preserve her future. How Blanchett plays the textures of her character is downright amazing, pouring herself into the black spaces of Jasmine. This articulation of soulful corrosion and privileged disbelief is riveting to watch, as Blanchett makes every moment count for Allen, providing a full-bodied range of emotions as a storm rages inside the tastefully-decorated woman. It’s outstanding work (with a masterful American accent) in a film of tremendous acting, finding Hawkins an ideal open wound as Ginger, portraying a burnt-out grocery employee growing tired of trying to live up to her sister’s high standards. And surprisingly effective is Clay, stepping away from his brute comic persona to communicate mournful blue-collar regret and rage as Augie is sucked into Jasmine and Hal’s scheme, coming out the other side with smashed dreams and a broken marriage. It’s not that this is radical work from the notorious Diceman, but it’s enough of a change to cheer on deeper explorations into his dramatic range.

Bubbling with nervous energy and fascinated by self-destructive attitudes, “Blue Jasmine” finds subtlety in Allen’s control. While “Midnight in Paris” was his most delightful effort in quite some time, “Blue Jasmine” is his most unceremoniously tragic, establishing an unsettling reality of mental erosion in the midst of jokes, banter, and sibling condemnation.

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Bobby Cannavale, Louis C.K., Sally Hawkins, Peter Sarsgaard
Director: Woody Allen

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