Cate Blanchett | Film | Nathaniel Rogers | Review

Weekend Movies: Stormy Cate Takes 'Blue Jasmine'

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Cate Blanchett self-medicates in the funny/tragic "Blue Jasmine" 

BY NATHANIEL ROGERS 

Cate Blanchett can't shut up in BLUE JASMINE, Woody Allen's latest dramedy which added more cities this weekend for its platform rollout. We join Jasmine (real name "Jeanette") in medias res on a flight to San Francisco as she's chattering away with, no, at an older companion. She goes on and on (and on some more!) about her love affair with her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) all the way through to baggage claim.

But Jasmine is a liar or at least a half truth-teller. We will immediately discover that her great love affair ended in ruin. Hal was a criminal, a financial con artist who pampered Jasmine with other people's fortunes and ruined everyone including Jasmine. She's moving in with her estranged adopted sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), also ruined by Hal's crimes, now that she's destitute. Jasmine hasn't adjusted to her new facts, though, treating her cabbie from the airport like a personal chauffeur, and leaving him a big tip considering she's supposed to be penniless.Jasmine isn't always "in the now" as it were. She never is actually, talking or bragging or obsessing over the past.

MORE AFTER THE JUMP...

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When she's not downing xanax like breath mints she's dreaming of the future which looks suspiciously like the past with socioeconomic status restored and rich husband (albeit a new one) to care for her. Once Jasmine is living with Ginger, and bristling at her sister's low class digs (pretty spacious and nice for a check-out girl's salary!) and her unsophisticated boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale), the mashup of A Streetcar Named Desire and the Bernie Madoff scandal becomes apparent.

Woody is a smart enough screenwriter to avoid direct this equals that correlations, though. A Streetcar Named Desire is untouchable and the basic template is a solid enough melody to riff jazzily on. Cannavale, for instance, has the "Stanley Kowalski" macho-crybaby role minus the danger. The "Mitch" role has a few suitors but none of them ever quite work. As for Blanchett's own "Blanche", well Jasmine's fall is less innocent and poetic but she's no less of a mess than that Southern Belle once she hits bottom.

If your protagonist is going to babble incessantly for 98 minutes --as Jasmine does, to herself and to others -- you can't do much better than casting Cate Blanchett. Her voice has always been her greatest asset as a star actress, full of affect, sure (and that suits Jasmine who is always putting on airs), but melodious and extremely flexible to character. Her chords can hit you with delicate tremors of feeling or tectonic shifts in tone that level whole scenes.The cacophony of her chatter peaks with hilariously inappropriate life-lessons for her dumbfounded nephews:

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"There's only so much trauma a person can withstand before they take to the streets and start screaming."

But the most inspired beat in her angry self-pitying performance may well be a silent one. [Spoiler Alert] While shopping with her new boyfriend Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard), Jasmine is confronted by a figure from her past who exposes her myriad lies and mentions her son Danny (Alden Ehrenreich) whom she has conveniently denied existed. Blanchett goes dead silent for a moment in the space where she'd usually be lying, lost not in the humiliation of exposure -- she doesn't even seem to register Dwight's outrage --but shocked into temporary bracing present tense reality. [/Spoiler]

Bluejasmine-gettingreadyBlue Jasmine is fleet and vivid at 98 minutes and funny, too, despite its tragic nature. Yet it's also in some ineffable way kind of blurry, a half success which never quite comes into focus or shakes off its duller sideshow impulses. It hasn't worked out what to do with Ginger, underusing the excellent Sally Hawkins by saddling her with both reductive Hollywood tropes (As in Titanic and many other films "the poor" are exotically adaptable creatures, freer and happier than the upper-classes) and with a half-hearted subplot with Louis CK that never truly connects to the movie. The pressing question the movie fails to answer: If Ginger is a convenience and crutch for Jasmine, what exactly is Jasmine to Ginger? Hannah and Her Sisters is probably untoppable in this regard but couldn't the sibling relationships be clearer? 

The problem may be that the movie has ceded all of itself to Hurricane Blanchett who doesn't share the scenes so much as spin madly at their center (less a flaw of performance than the nature of Jasmine's psychology). Just days later it's difficult to recall individual moments, not because they're repetitive (less a flaw of filmmaking than the nature of Jasmine's psychology) but because the past keeps intruding on the present and entirely overwhelming it.

In some troubling way, Blue Jasmine begins as a bastard progeny of Streetcar but morphs into a sour sibling of Midnight in Paris. Woody Allen, like Jasmine, may well be lost in conversation with himself now. Gil in Midnight in Paris managed to see delusional nostalgia for the trap it is and wrestle free, but Jasmine (and maybe Woody?) is weaker, less aware of her own culpability in her ruts and troubles. In the merciless finale, Jasmine only sees the past leaving little hope that she has any kind of future.

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ALSO PLAYING
The Spectacular Now proves that not all YA novels are supernatural! The screen adaptation of the romantic drama about a high school senior (Miles Teller) who really loves his girls (Shailene Woodley and Brie Larson) and his booze (and not in that order) is well acted and charming. The Wolverine is another grimly sober superhero flick (shouldn't having super powers be more fun?) that wastes its Japanese setting and its rare female cast [Reviewed]. And Fruitvale Station continues on its probable march towards Oscar nominations [Reviewed] though now it has Blue Jasmine for company in that conversation.

Nathaniel Rogers would live in the movie theater but for the poor internet reception. He blogs daily at the Film Experience. Follow him on Twitter @nathanielr.

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Comments

  1. I love Cate Blanchett, but this sounds kind of awful, or you've made it sound that way.

    Posted by: UFFDA | Aug 3, 2013 7:08:12 PM


  2. I just saw the movie yesterday, and I have to say it has stuck with me constantly since then. I agree that the movie is all about Blanchett's performance, but I have to say that not only is it the best performance in a Woody Allen picture since Sean Penn in 'Sweet and Lowdown', but definitely the first bonafide Best Actress performance of the year.

    Yes, the movie, without Blanchett, would be a snooze in that it hits every cliche that Allen has developed over the years. But, since Blanchett is in nearly every scene I really don't have an issue with that. She anchors this film in a way that few film actresses do these days.

    Also, I can't buy into your feeling that the poor people in the movie are akin to the mystical/happy Negro trope (my comparison, not yours). I think they are actually portrayed in a nuanced way. We see that Jasmine's sister Ginger has a certain sense of resentment and feelings of lost opportunities in her life. Especially once Jasmine is on the scene. The difference is that Ginger is willing to live in the now and not fall prey to the same empty reminiscing that Jasmine does. When she does, she's liable for the same sour outcome as Jasmine creates for herself. But Ginger seems to learn, where Jasmine refuses to.

    Plus, you simply have to give points to a movie where Andrew Dice Clay even comes off as a human being! I can't say I ever like looking at him in my entertainment, but he was a welcome presence here -- Allen uses him brilliantly (and sparingly!)

    I am looking forward to seeing this movie again and watching Blanchett even more closely!

    Posted by: Princely | Aug 3, 2013 7:17:45 PM


  3. @UFFDA -- If you love Cate, DO NOT miss this performance!

    Posted by: Princely | Aug 3, 2013 7:19:49 PM


  4. This is one of Woody's very best films, stem to stern and CATE BLANCHETT IS A GODDESS!

    There' NOTHING this woman can't do. And if you don't believe me take a gander at THIS clip

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Ha1eqHDu_w

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Aug 3, 2013 7:28:04 PM


  5. A lot of critics have said there are hints of Streetcar but not so many direct comparisons. Actually, there are MANY. Think of the opening scene with Jasmine in her white outfit (like Blanche) coming to her sister's downscale residence and expressing dismay (as in Streetcar). The sister isn't home (as in Streetcar) and Jasmine has to go to the local bar to get the keys. (Blanche goes to the bowling alley in the movie.) Jasmine (like Blanche) spends the movie swilling her sister's liquor. Chili (like Stanley) first appears in a bowling shirt. At one point he rips the phone out of the wall. (Stanley rips out the radio.) The other Stanley figure in this piece, Jasmine's ex-brother-in-law betrays her lies to her fiance (the Mitch stand-in) and he dumps her (as Mitch does in Streetcar.) And in the end we discover that Jasmine's words, just like Blanche's, have (SPOILER ALERT), lead to the suicide of her husband Hal (called Allen--a similar-sounding name--in Streetcar.) And of course the whole thing ends with Jasmine sinking into a world of madness while her sister, the resilient one, reestablishes her state of domestic stability with wife-beater clad Chili. And don't forget, before the opening of Streetcar, Blanche lived on the wealthy family estate which was ultimately lost to her own ineptitude and the bad judgment of her now-deceased relatives. If you don't think this is essentially a Streetcar remake all I can say is: Hey Stellaaaa.....Pay attention!!!

    Posted by: HalWLanse | Aug 3, 2013 9:03:40 PM


  6. Well it's NOT a remake of "Steetcar" The things you cite are superficial.

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Aug 3, 2013 10:11:32 PM


  7. At most it could be called a 'reimagining' of 'Streetcar' (a rather silly word, but it fits here). It's definitely NOT a remake. Much in the way 'Stardust Memories' isn't a remake of '8 1/2', but is heavily influenced by it.

    Posted by: Princely | Aug 3, 2013 10:28:58 PM


  8. I was knocked out by Cate Blanchett's performance. Spectacular!

    Posted by: Lucien | Aug 3, 2013 10:31:00 PM


  9. I'm so glad there's a good film out. Can't wait to see it.

    Posted by: GB | Aug 3, 2013 11:34:01 PM


  10. OK I'm rethinking this. I might love it...I'm enjoying the commentary here.

    Posted by: UFFDA | Aug 4, 2013 7:49:30 AM


  11. I agree that Blanchett's performance is superb. In fact, her performance one of the best in movie history. The plot does have holes, so all is not neat and tidy. But who cares; you will witness fantastic acting by a terrific cast. The real-estate porn is not bad either.

    Posted by: PJK | Aug 4, 2013 9:18:42 AM


  12. 3 things I want to say about Blue Jasmine are .. Blanchett, Blanchett, and Blanchett. Superb and unforgettable performance!

    Posted by: gayalltheway | Aug 5, 2013 1:17:44 AM


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