Thursday, August 29, 2013

Blue Jasmine

Depending on the Kindness (Enabling) of Strangers
Being Entitled to Your Opinion

Blue Moon/You saw me standing alone/
Without a dream in my heart/Without a love of my own/
Blue Moon/You know just what I was there for/
You heard me saying a prayer for/Someone I really could care for/
And then there suddenly appeared before me/

The only one my arms will hold/
I heard somebody whisper please adore me/
And when I looked to the Moon it turned to gold
Blue Moon/Now I'm no longer alone
Without a dream in my heart/Without a love of my own

Woody Allen's 21st century version of Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire," Blue Jasmine, is a contemporary version of the play's tragedy in an unsympathetic post-Bernie Madoff/Wall Street Bail-Out world, turning it into a moralistic comedy.  It may seem a little misogynistic to be so mocking to someone as Williams' Blanche DuBois who has suffered a cataclysm, but when the someone is as cluelessly entitled and myopic as Allen's Jasmine (nee Jeanette) Francis (Cate Blanchett), there is a very real glee to see them get their, as the term is used in The Magnificent Ambersons, "comeuppance."

It's a brilliant conceit, combining Allen's love for classic literature and forms, tossing his own hang-dog spin onto it, while, for once, being refreshingly contemporary—something Allen hasn't really done of late, as he's had a depressive's obsession with the past for the past couple of decades (no matter how fresh the cast may be).

Allen starts his film (after the standard black background with white credits backed this time by '30's depression era rhythm and blues) with an (unusual for him) CGI shot of a jet approaching the camera, sailing by and moving away.  Jasmine Francis ("I fell in love with the 'Jasmine.' 'Jeanette' has no panache") is on that jet flying from New York to San Francisco to move in with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins—her second film for Allen) for a fresh start after losing everything in her life.  They're both adopted and couldn't be more different (As Sally says "She got the good genes."); Jeanette is all high cheek-bones and au couture, while Sally is low class and all teeth, surrounded by Guido's and roughnecks. Jasmine has suffered a reversal of fortune as her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) has been caught wheeling and dealing in real estate schemes, ending up in prison, and committing suicide.  Her extended visit delays Ginger's boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale) moving in with her and her two kids by Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), he ex-husband.  There's a bit of a sandpaper quality to Ginger and Jasmine's relationship; when Ginger and Augie were married, they lost a lottery nest-egg investing in one of Hal's "get-rich-quick" investment schemes, something Jasmine forgets when she drama-queens over her own plight, and dismisses entirely when confronted with it.

Jasmine (Blanchett) and Ginger (Hawkins)
So it rankles when Jasmine pulls a Mrs. Madoff and claims victim-hood about the money she's lost. Jasmine has no plans, no prospects, and there are hints of a nervous breakdown after she was found wandering the streets talking to herself.  Now, she's popping Xanax with a vodka chaser and barely keeping ahead of anxiety attacks and comatose fugue states as she barrels through the lower echelons of San Francisco, trying to latch onto opportunities.

She decides to go back to school, learning computers so she can go "into" interior design, taking a job at a dentist's (Michael Stuhlbarg)—for which she is totally ill-suited (anything with the words "customer" and "service" in any combination would be)—to fund the courses.  In the meantime, from her lowly status, she lords it over the family and friends she finds beneath her.  That meaning everyone.

The flip-side to this is that people still find her attractive, as she puts up a great, if shallow, front, speaking of her glory days—which segue into flashbacks of her privileged happy life, only to find that once the flashback has ended, that she's still carrying on the conversation inside the flashback, and whoever she was talking through previously has left.*  It's a clever use of flashback as psychosis, a clever, nearly invisible off-shoot of the film-star (played by Jeff Daniels) stepping out of the film in The Purple Rose of Cairo. Where Allen has been living in the past the last few films, Jasmine is doing the same thing, to her detriment, as, whether in flashback or real life, it comes back to haunt her and take her away from the present and any future she might aspire to.

It's a return to near perfect form without the tricks and conceits that Allen used (during his "earlier, funny" films) and nicely merges the bi-polar extremes of comedy and tragedy that the more mature filmmaker in Allen has aspired to.  It also feels less fussy and musty than the after-taste some of the lesser Allen films have left of late.  After a lifetime of making good films, some classic and some merely pedantic, and eschewing his earlier stylistic tricks, one wonders if, at the age of 78, Allen's best films might still be ahead of him and that's an exciting prospect.

Blue Jasmine is a Full-Price Ticket.

Jasmine in her "fugue" state

* It's a bit like the Larry David monologues-to-the-camera in Whatever Works, only there's no child around to ask "Who's that man talking to, Mommy?"

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